Israel and the Church: See the Difference?


This graphic is very revealing (source unknown)**:

 

Israel and the Church

To elaborate on points 7-10, in the post “Who Are God’s Chosen People and Why Are They Chosen?” we saw clearly the parallel language between what was spoken to ancient Israel (Exodus 19) and what was spoken to the Church (I Peter 2):

The parallel language is unmistakable, and I have letter-coded the parallels (A, B, and C):

[1] To ancient national Israel: “Now therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, you shall be [A] MY TREASURED POSSESSION among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to Me [B] A KINGDOM OF PRIESTS and a [C] HOLY NATION…” (Exodus 19:5-6).

[2] To the Church: “But you are a chosen race, [B] A ROYAL PRIESTHOOD, a [C] HOLY NATION, a people [A] FOR HIS OWN POSSESSION, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people…” (I Peter 2:9-10).

On this topic, see also:

[1] “Why I Stand With Israel” shows how Isaiah, Matthew, Luke, and John all demonstrate that what was said of ancient Israel in the Old Testament is now said of Jesus. In other words, Jesus is Israel, and it’s no surprise that Paul calls Jesus’ followers “the Israel of God” (Galatians 6:16).

[2] “Both Jews and Non-Jews Belong Equally to “the Israel of God” (Galatians 6:16)

[3] “God’s Promise of a New Covenant to the House of Israel”

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**I was told by someone on Facebook that Charles Provan may have created this graphic, but I have not been able to confirm this. Charles authored a book titled, The Church Is Israel Now.

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A New Testament Pattern: A Wedding Follows Jerusalem’s Demise


In the last two posts (here and here), we wrapped up our study of Matthew 24, covering verses 35-51. This followed a 4-part parallel study of Matthew 24:1-34, Mark 13:1-30, and Luke 21:5-32 (seen here, here, here, and here).

As Matthew 24 transitions into Matthew 25, we observe something that reflects a pattern seen elsewhere in the New Testament. That is, Matthew 24-25 is one of three New Testament passages where the destructive judgment upon Jerusalem gives way to something far more redemptive and glorious, the wedding of Christ to His bride.

Matthew 24-25

As discussed in the six posts devoted to the Olivet Discourse (cited above), Jesus has just foretold the destruction of the temple, and His coming in judgment and in His kingdom, all of which was fulfilled within His own generation. Consider what He says next: “Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom” (Matthew 25:1). He then goes on to describe how those who were equipped with plenty of oil were able to go into the marriage feast with the bridegroom (Matt. 25:1-13), a most blessed opportunity. This is already the second time we’ve seen this pattern in the book of Matthew.

Matthew 22

Recall Matthew 22 and the Parable of the Wedding Feast (Matt. 22:1-14). In this parable, a king put on a wedding feast for his son, and the king’s servants were sent out to tell “those who were invited” (verse 2) that everything had been prepared. This represented God preparing a feast for His Son, Jesus, and the gospel first being spread among the Jewish people (e.g. Matthew 10:5-7, Matthew 15:24, Luke 24:47, Acts 1:8, Acts 3:26, Acts 13:46, Romans 1:16).

Many who were invited repeatedly ignored the invitation, and others even mistreated and killed the king’s servants who had invited them (verse 6). As a result:

The king was angry, and he sent his troops and destroyed those murderers and burned their city. Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding feast is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore to the main roads and invite to the wedding feast as many as you find’” (verses 7-9).

This, of course, was a foretelling of what would happen, and what did happen, to Jerusalem in 70 AD when it was burned by God’s instrument of judgment, the Romans.

The invitation then goes out to others (Gentiles as well as Jews; vss. 9-10), which I believe can be seen, for example, in the bold proclamation made by Paul and Barnabas in the city of Antioch:

The next Sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord. But when the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy and began to contradict what was spoken by Paul, reviling him. And Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly, saying, “It was necessary that the word of God be spoken first to you. Since you thrust it aside and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we are turning to the Gentiles. For so the Lord has commanded us, saying, ‘I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth’” (Acts 13:44-47).

Only those with proper wedding garments were allowed to remain at the wedding feast (vss. 10-14). In Jesus’ analogy before His first century audience, the speechless man (verse 12) perhaps represents the Jew who believed that his ethnic descent from Abraham earned him an automatic place in the kingdom of God. The proper wedding garment, however, meant being clothed in the righteousness of Christ (see Revelation 19:8). Those who lacked these garments remained in outer darkness and were not part of the chosen people of God (vss. 13-14; see also Matthew 8:11-12; Matt. 13:24-30, 36-43; Matt. 21:43-45).

Revelation 19

Outside of Matthew, this pattern of judgment before bridal bliss is also repeated. Babylon the Great is shown in Revelation 16-18 to be an adulterous city that was responsible for the shedding of the blood of prophets, apostles, and saints (see especially Rev. 16:4-6, 17:6, 18:20, and 18:24). This detail alone answers so clearly to what Jesus said in Matthew 23:29-38 that there is no further need to speculate on the identity of Babylon the Great. In Matthew 23, He not only tells who would be held responsible for the martyrdom of His people, but also when they would be held responsible:

Woe to you, Scribes and Pharisees… I send you prophets and wise men and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will flog in your synagogues and persecute from town to town, so that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on earth… Truly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generationO Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together… See, your house is left to you desolate.”

To make Babylon’s identity even more clear, though, John’s readers are told in Revelation 11 exactly what city he speaks of later in the book. In Rev. 11:8 we first come across the expression, “the great city,” which is later used seven more times in chapters 16-18 (Rev. 16:19, 17:18; 18:9, 16, 17, 19, 21) in reference to Babylon the Great. Speaking of God’s “two witnesses” (Rev. 11:3), John was told that their dead bodies would lie “in the street of the great city that symbolically is called Sodom and Egypt, where their Lord was crucified.” In what city was Jesus crucified? Of course, we know that it was Jerusalem.

So, with these things established, John’s readers are told four times that “the great city,” identified as Jerusalem, was to be burned with fire (Rev. 17:16, 18:8-9, 18:17, and 19:3). This literally happened in 70 AD, as Josephus and other eyewitnesses affirm. As the book of Matthew has already demonstrated, the story doesn’t end there. A great multitude in heaven cries out:

Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God, for His judgments are true and just; for He has judged the great prostitute who corrupted the earth with her immorality, and has avenged on her the blood of his servants… Hallelujah! The smoke from her goes up forever and ever” (Rev. 19:1-3).

The great multitude then goes on to say:

Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and exult and give Him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His bride has made herself ready” (Rev. 19:6-7).

Mirroring the words of Jesus in Matthew 22 and 25, an angel proclaims, “Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb” (Rev. 19:9).

This perhaps comes into greater focus when we recall that the apostle Paul said things like this to his first century readers:

Therefore, my brethren, you also have become dead to the law through the body of Christ, that you may be married to another—to Him who was raised from the dead, that we should bear fruit to God.” (Romans 7:4)

For I feel a divine jealousy for you, since I betrothed you to one husband, to present you as a pure virgin to Christ.” (II Corinthians 11:2)

Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to Himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish… This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.” (Ephesians 5:25-32)

So, in summary, we see that a wedding immediately follows the destruction of Jerusalem in Matthew 22:7-8, Matthew 24-25, and Revelation 19:1-10. This wedding feast, the marriage supper of the Lamb, is not awaiting fulfillment. It commenced in the first century. Let us rejoice, for God’s people are still called to partake of this feast even now!

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Thoughts Are Welcome

What are your thoughts on what Scripture says concerning the marriage of Christ to the Church?

For years, I was taught that the Church has not yet entered into the Marriage Supper of the Lamb, and that we remain betrothed (i.e. engaged) to Christ (see II Cor. 11:2, quoted above). This will be the case, I was taught, until He returns, at which time the marriage will take place. If this were true, what would be the significance/implications of a betrothal period lasting for 2000 years or more?

I now believe that Scripture shows that this betrothal period lasted for about one generation, and that the marriage and feast began at the time of Jerusalem’s destruction and the dissolution of the Old Covenant system in the first century. Since I believe this is true, I’m asking myself what is the significance of the betrothal period lasting for just that one generation?

I’m thinking aloud, but I’m guessing that Romans 7:4 (quoted above) holds a clue to this. Paul told his readers that they became dead to the law for a purpose. It was so that they could be married to Jesus who had been raised from the dead. Why was there a connection between the Church turning its back on the law, and looking forward to being married to Christ?

In our study of Matthew 24:35, we looked into Jesus’ statement in Matthew 5:17-18 that nothing would pass from the Law until heaven and earth disappeared. We saw that, viewing Scripture as a whole, “heaven and earth” is used as covenant language here. The Old Covenant was made obsolete at the cross, but a few decades later when Hebrews was written it was still “becoming obsolete and growing old” and “ready to vanish away” (Hebrews 8:13). This was accomplished when temple-based, Old Covenant Judaism met its demise in 70 AD. On the heels of the manifest passing of the Law, then (in fulfillment of Matthew 5:17-18), the Church was married to Christ. This took place as predicted in Matthew 22:7-8, Matthew 24-25, and Revelation 19:1-10; and as alluded to in Romans 7:4, II Corinthians 11:2, and Ephesians 5:25-32.

These are my thoughts. What are yours?

Revelation Chapter 21 (Part 2: Verses 5-27)


REVELATION 21 (Part 2: Verses 5-27)

Adam Maarschalk: February 3, 2010

Scripture text for this study: Revelation 21:1-27

Introduction: In the previous post, we covered the first four verses of Revelation 21, giving special attention to the imagery of a new heaven and a new earth (“for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away”), and the New Jerusalem coming down from God out of heaven. Our conclusion is that John was being shown the final transition from the Old Covenant age to the New Covenant age (exclusively and in fullness) in 70 AD. In other words, the New Jerusalem came down from heaven at that time, and is a present reality now, just as the author of Hebrews also said (Heb. 8:13; 12:22-24). The events of 70 AD demonstrated decisively that the kingdom no longer belonged to the Jewish nation, but to the holy nation created at Pentecost (Matt. 21:43-44, I Peter 2:4-10; cf. Daniel 7:22, 27), made up of both Jewish and Gentile believers who enter God’s kingdom on an equal basis.

It is recommended that one read Part 1 of our study of Revelation 21 before proceeding here, in order to have a basis for what is to follow. We will now continue with our study, picking things up in verse 5. We will be relying much on Steve Gregg’s commentary on this chapter.

Verse 5: The One on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new…” While the literalist position most often takes this statement to refer, along with the rest of the chapter, to a future physical new heavens and earth, this can also quite naturally be understood as a reference to the same truth which is articulated in II Corinthians 5:17. This verse reads, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” As believers submitted to Christ, every area of our lives should experience renewal. Even as this is true on a personal level for each believer, it’s also true in terms of the New Covenant. In the book “Revelation: Four Views (A Parallel Commentary),” Steve Gregg writes (p. 491):

The language of these verses also can apply to the passing away of the old covenantal order, which has been so completely replaced by the new order that God commands His people: “Do not remember the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold I will do a new thing” (Isa. 43:18-19). No place remains for the old covenant, as the writer of Hebrews explains: “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” (Heb. 8:13).

Verses 6-7: The text here reads, “And he said to me, ‘It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be His God and he will be My son.’” Is this a present reality, or a future reality to be experienced in the eternal state? Steve Gregg reminds us (p. 491):

[T]he promise, I will give of the fountain of the water of life freely to him who thirsts (v. 6), is clearly the same as that made twice by Jesus in John’s Gospel (cf. John 4:10, 14; 7:37f). Also, the phrase He who overcomes (v. 7) is characteristic of the phraseology in the promises made by Christ in the letters to the seven churches (cf. 2:7, 11, 17, 26; 3:5, 12, 21).

The one who overcomes receives this promise: “and I will be His God and he will be my son.” A similar promise is given in II Corinthians 6:18, a passage speaking of the Church as the temple of the living God. There we read: “and I will be a Father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to Me, says the Lord Almighty.” This present position as God’s children is also spoken of in Romans 8:15-17. Kenneth Gentry, in his latest book “Navigating the Book of Revelation,” adds:

John is encouraging the beleaguered first century saints to hold on through their trials: Once Jerusalem falls, they will complete their entry into the final redemptive-historical order which has been gradually dawning since the time of Christ (John 4:21-23). As the writer of Hebrews puts it: Since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe” (Heb. 12:28 NIV; cf. Heb. 8:13). Or as Paul expresses it in the mid-50s: “And this do, knowing the time, that it is already the hour for you to awaken from sleep; for now salvation is nearer to us than when we believed. The night is almost gone, and the day is at hand. Let us therefore lay aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light” (Rom. 13:11-12) – a reality worthy of enduring persecution.

Jesus promises His disciples that some of them will live to see the kingdom’s final establishment in power: “Truly I say to you, there are some of those who are standing here who shall not taste death until they see the kingdom of God after it has come with power” (Mark 9:1). Thus in Revelation 21 John paints nascent, post-A.D. 70 Christianity – now finally separated from Judaism – in glowing terms, as a firmly established, glorious reality (p. 167).

Verse 8: This verse reads, “But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake of fire that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.” Steve Gregg notes that many scholars have equated “the cowardly” with apostates “who defect from the gospel rather than enduring hardship as good soldiers of Jesus Christ,” in contrast to those “who overcome” (v. 7).

We also saw a reference to the lake of fire and the second death in Revelation 20:14, with regard to the Great White Throne Judgment. This is where, according to that passage, death and Hades was to be thrown, along with anyone whose name was not found in the book of life (Rev. 20:15).[1]

Steve Gregg makes a very interesting observation at this point. Speaking of the preceding 8 verses in relation to the rest of the final two chapters, he observes (p. 492):

One way of understanding the structure of these final chapters is to see this whole segment (vv. 1-8) as an outline or summary of the remaining portion of the book. A remarkable correspondence exists between the progression of thought in these first verses and in the remaining chapters.

Compare, after the introductory statement in verse 1:

CONTENT

In Verses 1-8

In the Remainder

New Jerusalem Verse 2 21:9-21
God dwells among men Verse 3 21:22-27
Renewal of the world Verse 5a 22:1-5
“These words are true and faithful” Verse 5b 22:6-10
Work completed: “I am Alpha and Omega” Verse 6a 22:11-15
Final blessing: water of life to all who thirst Verses 6b – verse 7 22:16-17
Final curse upon the rebellious Verse 8 22:18-19

Verse 9: John is now taken to see “the Bride, the wife of the Lamb,” by one of the same seven angels who held the bowl judgments. Steve Gregg notes (p. 493) that one of these same angels—perhaps even the same one—had also taken John to see the great harlot in Revelation 17:1: “Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and said to me, ‘Come, I will show you the judgment of the great prostitute who is seated on many waters.’” He says that this “provides a structural link, deliberately placing the harlot in juxtaposition with the bride.” We made the same observation in our study of chapter 17, comparing the language of these two texts as follows:

A. Revelation 21:9: “Then came one of the seven angels which had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues and spoke to me, saying, ‘Come, I will show you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb.’”

B. Revelation 17:3: “And he carried me away in the Spirit into a wilderness, and I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast that was full of blasphemous names.”

B. Revelation 21:10: “And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great, high mountain, and showed me the holy Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God.”

Earthly Jerusalem and the Old Covenant temple system are thus contrasted with heavenly Jerusalem and the New Covenant (cf. Galatians 4:21-31; Hebrews 12:18-28). On the different destinations to where John was taken in these two visions, Steve Gregg comments: “The bride-city is elevated upon a mountain, ‘beautiful in elevation, the joy of the whole earth’ (Ps. 48:2), while the harlot city is situated in a barren wasteland.”

Verses 10-11: The descending of “the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God” was also shown to John in verse 2. Steve Gregg comments on the significance of her attire:

Here, the attire of the bride is seen to be her having the glory of God (v. 11). The Shekinah that once rested upon the temple in earthly Jerusalem has departed from that institution and come to alight upon the church, the new temple of the Holy Spirit and the new City of God. The inheritance and hope of the New Testament believer is the hope of obtaining the glory of God (Rom. 2:7; 5:2; 8:18; Col. 1:27; I Thess. 2:12; 2 Thess. 2:14; Heb. 2:10; I Pet. 5:1, 10). This speaks of the likeness of Christ Himself seen upon His people (Rom. 8:29; 2 Cor. 3:18; Phil. 3:21; 2 Pet. 1:19; I John 3:2).

The light radiating from the glorious bride-city is compared to the radiance of a most precious stone, like a jasper stone, clear as crystal (v. 11), which probably refers to a diamond. The believing remnant is likened to jewels in the Old Testament. In Malachi 3:16-17, it is said of those who fear the Lord and meditate on His name, “‘They shall be Mine,’ says the Lord of hosts, ‘on the day that I make them My jewels.’” The context in Malachi [3:16-4:6] suggests that the reference is to the Jewish believers in Christ, who escaped the desolation of the capital city in A.D. 70. In this place also some find grounds for seeing the bride as the surviving church at the time of the destruction of the Jewish polity.

Verses 12-13: This text reads, “It [the New Jerusalem] had a great, high wall, with twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and on the gates the names of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel were inscribed—on the east three gates, on the north three gates, on the south three gates, and on the west three gates.” Steve Gregg comments (p. 494),

The city is described as surrounded by a great and high wall (v. 12). This is applicable to the church as a spiritual city even today. In speaking of the spiritual Jerusalem, God predicted “and you shall call your walls Salvation” (Isa. 60:18), and “I…will be a wall of fire around her, and I will be the glory in her midst” (Zech. 2:5). If Salvation is the wall—indeed, God Himself is the wall—of the city, then the city and its wall appear to be spiritual in nature. This would be a figurative means of expressing the reality of the believer’s security in the City of God.

The wall of the city has twelve gates (v. 12) which have written upon them the names of the twelve tribes of the children of Israel. In Isaiah, the same passage that calls the city’s wall “Salvation” goes on to say, “And your gates [shall be called] Praise” (Isa. 60:18). The most important of the twelve tribes was Judah, whose name means “Praise.” In Isaiah, the city’s gates are named after this tribe; in Revelation, the gates bear the names of all twelve tribes. There may be no conflict here, since in Judah, that is, in Christ, who is of that tribe, all the “twelve tribes” of the spiritual Israel are included. The attachment  of the tribal names to the gates may suggest that through Israel God made a way for the world to enter the City of God, for “salvation is of the Jews” (John 4:22). Of course, this is only another way of saying that salvation is through Jesus Christ, who sprang from the Jewish race…

Another observation concerning the 12 gates with the names of the 12 tribes of Israel is that this parallels Ezekiel’s vision, where he saw the same thing (Ezekiel 48:30-34). Gregg continues,

It is expedient that there should be three gates on the east, three gates on the north, three gates on the south, and three gates on the west (v. 13), to speak of the universal access into the church, for Jesus predicted that “They will come from the east and the west, from the north and the south, and sit down in the kingdom of God” (Luke 13:29).

In the passage just quoted from Luke 13, we should note that just before Jesus said these words, He also said to the unbelieving Jews that they would be cast out of the kingdom of God and would experience weeping and gnashing of teeth while the patriarchs, prophets, and many Gentiles would find entrance. This mirrors what Jesus said in the Parable of the Tenants (Matt. 21:43-44; cf. Matt. 22:1-14).

Verse 14: This verse reads, “And the walls of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.” Steve Gregg’s commentary on this verse is very insightful (p. 494):

Further evidence for identifying the city with the church is seen in the city foundations that have upon them the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb (v. 14). This detail communicates pictorially what Paul said more directly, that the church is “built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets” (Eph. 2:20). This is the city for which Abraham looked: “the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God” (Heb. 11:10).

Duncan McKenzie likewise says, “A physical structure (a city) is being used here as a symbol to portray the totality of God’s people, just as God’s people are likened to a physical structure (a temple) in Ephesians 2:19-22—notice that both “structures” are built on the foundation of the apostles (Eph. 2:20; Rev. 21:14).”

Verse 15: Here we read, “And the one who spoke with me had a measuring rod of gold to measure the city and its gates and walls.” Steve Gregg again comments (pp. 494-495):

The measuring of the city, its gates, and its wall (v. 15) recalls Ezekiel 40:3, where an angelic messenger carried a measuring line and a reed to measure the gates and walls of “something like the structure of a city” (Ezekiel 40:2) and the temple in it. It seems likely that this vision corresponds to that of Ezekiel, although premillennialists generally apply Ezekiel’s to the Millennium and this one to the state of things after the Millennium.

We should note that a major difference between Ezekiel’s account and John’s account here is that (as we will see) there is no temple in John’s vision. Ezekiel, on the other hand, goes into great detail in describing the temple he sees in his vision [In Philip Mauro’s classic work in 1922, “The Hope of Israel,” he noted that the promises given through Ezekiel were conditional (e.g. Ezekiel 43:9-11), and that these visions had to do with the return from the Babylonian captivity some five centuries before Christ with some foreshadowing also of Christ and the coming Church age].

Verses 16-21: We are now given the physical description of the holy city. Futurists, and premillennialists in particular, see this as a literal description of a future, physical city to be enjoyed during the eternal state following Christ’s millennial reign. On the other hand, as we will see, there is Scriptural warrant for seeing this description as depicting with rich symbolism the glories of the New Covenant church in this present age. Here is the text at hand:

The city lies foursquare; its length the same as its width. And he measured the city with his rod, 12,000 stadia [about 1380 miles]. Its length and width and height are equal. He also measured its wall, 144 cubits by human measurement, which is also an angel’s measurement. The wall was built of jasper, while the city was pure gold, clear as glass. The foundations of the wall of the city were adorned with every kind of jewel. The first was jasper, the second sapphire, the third agate, the fourth emerald, the fifth onyx, the sixth carnelian, the seventh chrysolite, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth chrysoprase, the eleventh jacinth, the twelfth amethyst. And the twelve gates were twelve pearls, each of the gates made of a single pearl, and the street of the city was pure gold, transparent as glass.

One key comparison to take note of is the fact that the holy city in John’s vision is cube-shaped, just as the holy of holies in Solomon’s temple was (I Kings 6:20). The holy of holies was overlaid with pure gold, while the holy city in John’s vision is entirely made of pure gold. What follows is Steve Gregg’s commentary on these verses, found on pages 495-496 of his book:

[VERSES 16-17] Since John sees no temple in the city (v. 22), we may imply that the whole city is the temple, or more specifically, the holy of holies. It is the place of the glory of God (cf. v. 11). This is the place of God’s residence (Eph. 2:20-21; I Tim. 3:15; Heb. 3:6; I Pet. 2:5), where God communes with men. Earlier [Rev. 11:1-2], John had measured the holy of holies (the naos) for its protection and preservation. In this vision, the naos is again measured, indicating its permanence, but it is now identified with the City of God, the church of Jesus Christ.

Part of the adorning of the bride is her jewelry… The walls, foundations, and gates are all made of great gemstones. This harks back to a prophecy of the Old Testament concerning the church: “O you afflicted one, tossed with the tempest, and not comforted, behold, I will lay your stones with colorful gems, and lay your foundations with sapphires. I will make your pinnacles of rubies, your gates of crystal, and all your walls of precious stones” (Isa. 54:11-12). [Steve Gregg’s endnote: That the church is here pictured seems a necessary conclusion to be drawn from Paul’s quotation of the first verse of the chapter in Galatians 4:26-27 and his application of it to the Gentiles of the New Covenant church.]

[VERSE 18] (T)he city itself was of gold, so thoroughly purified as to become transparent. This is an image used to describe the refined character of the sanctified believer (Job 23:10; Zech. 13:9; Mal. 3:3; I Pet. 1:7; Rev. 3:18).

[VERSES 19-20] The twelve gems comprising the foundations call to mind the twelve gems worn upon the breast of the high priest, though again the individual stones are not identical (cf. Ex. 28:15-21). Since these same stones bear the names of the twelve apostles, it could be understood as a statement about the leadership of the people of God having transferred from the high priesthood of the temple to the apostles of the church.

[VERSE 21] There may be symbolic significance to the fact that the twelve gates were twelve pearls (v. 21). Unlike the previously named gems, pearls are created organically. A rough grain of sand irritating the tissues of the oyster causes the secretion of a substance that transforms the source of irritation into a pearl. The pearl thus may stand for affliction turned to benefit, even as silver and gold refined by fire are used in Scripture for the same concept. The gates are the means of entry into the city. If the pearl is understood in this light, we have a picture of one of Paul’s preaching themes: “We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22).

In Scripture a way of life is frequently called a path, a way, a highway, or a road (e.g. Prov. 4:18; Isa. 35:8). Therefore it is reasonable to understand the street of the city (v. 21) as representing the way of life of those who comprise the New Jerusalem. This street was pure gold, like transparent glass, which speaks of the godly character and behavior that comes from enduring the refining fires of tribulation.

Verses 22-27: John continues to describe what he observes concerning the heavenly Jerusalem:

And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, and its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. They will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. But nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life.

Steve Gregg’s commentary again follows, including a most helpful chart comparing this portion of Revelation 21 with a corresponding portion of Isaiah 60 (pp. 496-497):

On the statement, I saw no temple in it, [J. Stuart] Russell writes: “Some of the features [of this vision] are evidently derived from the visionary city beheld by Ezekiel [chapters 40-48]; but there is this remarkable difference, that whereas the temple and its elaborate details occupy the principal part of the Old Testament vision, no temple at all is seen in the apocalyptic vision—perhaps for the reason that where all is most holy no one place has greater sanctity than another, or because where God’s presence is fully manifested, the whole place becomes one big temple.” Rather than going to a particular place to worship and appearing before God “in the sanctuary,” today one needs only be found “in God” or “in Christ” to worship acceptably, for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple (v. 22).

A helpful way of treating this segment is to look at it alongside an Old Testament passage with which it coincides. Compare the details point-by-point with Isaiah chapter 60:

Isaiah 60

Revelation 21

The sun shall no longer be your light by day, nor for brightness shall the moon give light to you; but the Lord will be to you…light (v. 19) The city had no need of the sun or of the moon to shine in it for the glory of God illuminated it (v. 23)
The Gentiles shall come to your light (v. 3) The nations of those who are saved shall walk in its light (v. 24)
Kings shall minister to you (v. 10); the glory of Lebanon shall come to you (v. 13) The kings of the earth bring their glory and honor into it (v. 24)
Your gates shall be open continually…not shut day nor night (v. 11) Its gates shall not be shut at all by day (there shall be no night there) (v. 25)
The wealth of the Gentiles shall come to you (v. 5) They shall bring the glory and the honor of the nations into it (v. 26)
Also your people shall be all righteous (v. 21) There shall by no means enter it anything that defiles (v. 27)

In Isaiah 60, all of this is precipitated by the dawning of the glory of the Lord in a glorious new day (Isa. 60:1-3). This day was seen to dawn with the birth of John the Baptist and Jesus (cf. Luke 1:76-78; Matt. 4:13-16). Both passages then would appear to speak, albeit in symbolic terms, of the realities of the New Covenant age. The coming of the Gentiles into the church and the submission of kings to Christ has been in progress for nearly two thousand years now.

These facts alone (those highlighted in the paragraph above) would seem to be conclusive proof that these prophecies found here simply cannot be said to await a future dispensation or realm, but are indeed realities which have characterized the Church for nearly 2000 years.

This brings us to the end of the chapter, in terms of looking at it verse-by-verse. In this post, we have noted several parallels with the book of Ezekiel. This is actually a very common pattern with the book of Revelation, and numerous scholars have recognized that John borrows much from—or alludes much to—Ezekiel. Just for fun, here is a brief summary from Pastor Sam Frost of some of the parallels between Revelation 21 and various visions of Ezekiel:

Ezekiel is taken to a high mountain by angel and sees a city (40.1-3). John is taken to a high mountain by an angel and sees a city (21.10). The first thing Ezekiel sees is the wall (40.5) that surrounds the city. The first thing John sees is the wall surrounding the city (21.12). The first gate Ezekiel sees is the ‘east gate’ (40.6). The first gate for John is the ‘east gate’ (21.13). Ezekiel sees the East, North (40.20-23) and the South (40.24-27), in that order. John follows the same order: ‘From the East gates, three; and from the North gates, three; and the South gates, three’ (21.13). One omission: Ezekiel does not mention a West gate, but John does.

Each gate/alcove for John and Ezekiel are ‘three’ (21.13; cf. 40.10). Each are being measured (21.15-ff; cf. 40.10-ff). John then measures the city itself and its foundations. Here, Ezekiel goes into the city and sanctuary and begins measuring their dimensions.

Obviously, Ezekiel’s vision is much more detailed that John’s. Nonetheless, the pattern is there, plainly. Each gate (four in all, with three alcoves, giving a total of 12) are named after the tribes of Israel (Ez 48.31-ff). Same as John (21.12). The City has ‘living waters’ in Ezekiel 47.1-ff. So does John (22.1-ff). I can expand the list, but we would be here a little longer. By now, you ought to get the point.

Before we bring this post to a close, and by way of review, the following is a selected outline of Kenneth Gentry’s reasons[2] for seeing a first-century fulfillment of the vision of Revelation 21. My numbering of Gentry’s points is a bit different than his own numbering, as I have left out certain points for the sake of brevity:

[1] The flow of Rev’s drama expects the immediate appearance of the New Jerusalem bride (21:2). John’s theme involves Christ’s judging Israel (1:7), which leads to the destruction of old, historical Jerusalem (under the image of Babylon…). Once the old city is destroyed in AD 70 we should expect the New Jerusalem to take its place. Indeed, the NT declares the heavenly Jerusalem is already present in Christianity, as over against Judaism (Gal 4:26; Heb 12:22; cp. vv 18–21).

[2] Per the “unanimous agreement among scholars” (Mathewson, A New Heaven and a New Earth, 33; cf. Beale, Revelation, 1041), John’s immediate source material is surely Isa 65:17–20 (cf. LXX). Isaiah’s prophecy portrays the coming new covenant order established by Christ (cp. 2Cor 5:17; Gal 6:15; Eph 2:10; 4:24). As Young (Isaiah 3:514) explains: “Heaven and earth are employed as figures to indicate a complete renovation or revolution in the existing course of affairs. With the advent of the Messiah the blessing to be revealed will in every sense be so great that it can be described as the creation of a new heaven and a new earth.”

[3] The coming down of the new Jerusalem (21:2) leads to the loud proclamation from God’s throne: “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He shall dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself shall be among them.” This transpires in the first century, as a result of Christ’s work and his pouring out God’s Spirit. Paul writes in 2Co 6:16: “We are the temple of the living God; just as God said, ‘I will dwell in them and walk among them; And I will be their God, and they shall be My people.”

[4] …The promise of the water of life without cost reflects Isa 55:1 and the offer of salvation, which is related to the redemptive-historical order established by Christ in the first century. In his Gospel John speaks of the water of life flowing from Christ during his incarnation (4:10–14) and promises its fuller flow at his exaltation (7:38–39; cp. Ac 2).

[5] The twelve foundation stones of the city in 21:14 picture the historical church, which Paul presents as already “having been built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets” (Eph. 2:20).

[6] …John writes in 21:22: “And I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God, the Almighty, and the Lamb, are its temple.” This suggests a first century reality, for with Christ’s coming and death the temple is rendered unnecessary (Mk 15:38//; Jn 4:21; Ac 17:24; Heb 8:13), for he is the temple (Jn 2:19–21; Eph 2:19–20) and is greater than the physical temple (Mt 12:6).

[7] That “the nations shall walk by its light” (21:24a) suggests that the nations as separate national entities still exist. Thus, historical conditions still prevail, rather than radically new, eternal conditions of perfect union and the fading of all distinctions.

[8] The city is not a purely consummational phenomenon, for the “unclean” and he “who practices abomination and lying” are not allowed in (21:27). This implies a pre-Judgment setting, where sinners still exist. In fact, the city contains the “tree of life,” which produces leaves “for the healing of the nations” (22:1–2). This also requires conditions subsisting prior to the eternal order. The healing of the nations obviously suggests conversion. John even declares the continued existence of “dogs and the sorcerers and the immoral persons and the murderers and the idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices lying” (22:15), though they are “outside” of the city. Presumably they are the targets of evangelism, for whom the healing leaves of the tree of life exist. (pp. 2-3)

Summary Statement: “So there you have it! John is picturing the glory of new covenant Christianity, which arises from the fallen ashes of collapsed Judaism (cp. Matt 8:11–12; Heb 8:13).”

An Invitation for Feedback

It seems that this is as good a place as any to pose a question I’ve been wishing to resolve for some time. I have no dogmatic position on this as of yet, and would love to have some thoughts/feedback. My question is this: What is the significance of Hebrews 9:8-10, if any, to Revelation 21? This passage in Hebrews reads as follows:

By this the Holy Spirit indicates that the way into the holy places is not yet opened as long as the first section is standing (which is symbolic for the present age). According to this arrangement, gifts and sacrifices are offered that cannot perfect the conscience of the worshipper, but deal only with food and drink and various washings, regulations for the body imposed until the time of reformation.

Rightly or wrongly, I’m linking this passage to Revelation 21 since, as we noted when looking at verse 16, the cube-shaped holy city in John’s vision replaces the cube-shaped holy of holies of the Old Covenant temple (I Kings 6:20). Among my suppositions and considerations are these:

[1] Unless there is a tense error in the English Standard Version from which I quoted this text in Hebrews 9, the first century readers seem to have been told that the way into the holy places was not yet opened in their day, but that it would be opened once the first section no longer stood. This “first section” was spoken of in Heb. 9:6, and is a reference back to Numbers 28:3 where we see a prescription for the regular offering of two male lambs without blemish. Does Heb. 9:8 mean that the first section must no longer physically stand (a reality accomplished only in 70 AD), or simply that it must no longer stand as covenantally significant (a reality accomplished at the cross)?

[2] By the phrase “the present age,” I understand the author of Hebrews to mean the Old Covenant/Judaic age which ended in 70 AD with the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple at the hands of the Romans (see this post here for “a discussion of two ages”). [By the way, if “the present age” is understood—as it popularly is—to mean this present church age, then is “the way into the holy places” still not opened, even in our day? Of course it is. Or is there indeed a tense error in this quoted passage? Curiously, in the ESV the past tense is used in verses 1-5, but the present tense is used in verses 6-10. I’m not so sure that it should be this way. This whole passage may even refer to the wilderness tabernacle, and thus have nothing to do with 70 AD except for the mention of “the present age.”]

[3] The phrase “the time of reformation” I would understand to refer to Christ’s work on the cross, for it was surely this work which brought an end to the imposing of “food and drink and various washings, regulations for the body…”

[4] I want to be careful not to assign any significance to the events of 70 AD which is instead properly assigned to the cross. Jesus and Him crucified must remain central.

So, does anyone have thoughts on this matter? Thanks in advance for any feedback.

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Our next post brings us to Revelation 22, which will be our final post in this series of chapter-by-chapter studies of the book of Revelation.

All of our Revelation chapter-by-chapter studies, and any other posts related to the book of Revelation, can be found here.


[1] As we saw in a previous post, Duncan McKenzie makes a good case that the great white throne judgment is a past event—for those who have already died. He sees it as an ongoing event ever since 70 AD, so that everyone who has died since then experiences a personal judgment following their physical death, rather than a one-time event in the future to be experienced by all humanity at once. Hebrews 9:27 (“…it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment”) is said to reflect this sequence, as is Revelation 11:18. This was also the viewpoint of J. Stuart Russell (1816-1895), who wrote the landmark book “The Parousia.”

[2] Source: Kenneth Gentry, “New Creation as New Covenant” (Supplement to his newest book, Navigating the Book of Revelation: Special Studies on Important Issues), January 2010, p. 4.

Revelation Chapter 19


REVELATION 19

Mike**: December 17, 2009

Scripture text for this study: Revelation 19:1-21

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**Our study of Revelation 19 was led by Mike on December 17th, 2009, but there is much here in this post beyond what was presented that evening. This post was created on Mike’s behalf, with his permission.          –Adam

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Verses 1-6: In the previous chapter we saw much mourning on the part of the kings, merchants, and shipmasters “of the earth” (which we understood to be Palestine)[1]** because of Babylon’s destruction and burning. Here at the beginning of this chapter we see that all of heaven rejoices, for God “has judged the great prostitute…and has avenged on her the blood of His servants” (verse 2). As we have already discussed in chapters 16-18 there is only one entity that Jesus said would be held responsible for the shed blood of His saints, prophets, and apostles, and that is first-century Israel (Matthew 23:35-36, Luke 11:50-51; cf. Rev. 16:4-6, 17:6, 18:20-24).

**[In our study of Revelation so far, we have also suggested that many of the references to “the earth” in the book of Revelation are not meant to be taken as worldwide in scope, but as dealing instead with the land of Israel/Palestine. In a 3-part study on this subject beginning with this post, I have outlined nearly 20 instances where this appears to be the case.]

As we also discussed in our studies of Rev. 17 and Rev. 18, the expression “the smoke from her goes up forever and ever” (verse 3) is more a reference to the eternal extinction of Old Covenant temple-based Judaism than it is to the physical city of Jerusalem, though both were laid waste in 70 AD. This expression was also used in Rev. 14:11 regarding the torment laid up for those who would worship the beast and its image. It hearkens back to Isaiah 34, where the same expression was used in regard to the judgment upon Edom, and perhaps even further back to the judgment upon Sodom (Jerusalem’s namesake; cf. Rev. 11:8) and Gomorrah (Genesis 19:28).

In his book,Revelation: Four Views (A Parallel Commentary),” Steve Gregg presents David Chilton’s side-by-side comparison of the first six verses of Revelation 19 with the last five verses (15-19) of Revelation 11. Chilton indicates that very similar subject matter is established “in the two passages which represent the closing visions of the two major sections of the book.” These are the six similar elements identified by Chilton (p. 440):

1. loud voices…in heaven (11:15; 19:1);
2. the declaration of the commencement of the reign of God (11:15, 17; 19:1, 6);
3. the twenty-four elders fall on their faces and worship (11:16; 19:4);
4. the avenging of the blood of His servants is announced (11:18; 18:24; 19:2);
5. reference to God’s servants…who fear Him, small and great (11:18; 19:5);
6. loud noises, including thunderings (11:19; 19:6).

In verse 6, we see a reference to the onset of God’s kingdom in its fullness in the words of the great multitude crying out: “Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns.” In the preterist section of the book “Four Views on the Book of Revelation” (edited by Stanley N. Gundry and C. Marvin Pate, Zondervan Publishing: 1998), Kenneth Gentry (pp. 80-81) shares these details about the significance of the kingdom being taken from the harlot and given to the bride:

The New Testament records the gradual establishment of the kingdom (cf. Matt. 13:31-33; Mark 4:26-29): from its ministerial announcement (Matt. 12:28; Mark 1:15) to its legal security at the cross (Matt. 28:18; Rom. 1:3-4; Phil. 2:1-11; Col. 1:13; 2:14-15) to its public vindication in Israel’s overthrow (Matt. 23:32-24:21; Gal. 4:21-31; I Thess. 2:16; Rev. 6-19). God’s removal of the temple system—physically breaking down the “dividing wall of hostility” legally broken in Christ (Eph. 2:14)—conclusively ended the early Zionistic tendencies of many first-century Christians (e.g. Acts 11:1-3; 15:1; Rom. 14:1-8; Gal. 1-5; Col. 2:16; Tit. 3:9) and established Christianity as a separate religion in its own right (this is why Jesus likens the great tribulation to “birth pains,” Matt. 24:8).

In conjunction with the marriage feast preparations, the bridegroom appears. In fact, his divorce and the capital punishment of his adulterous wife-prostitute provide the very justification for this celebration and new marriage (19:11-18). The lesson of Revelation now becomes clear: Christ gloriously appears as a warrior-bridegroom, punishing faithless Jerusalem and taking a new bride.

To this picture of Christ taking a new bride we now turn; we will also see this picture expanded upon greatly in our study of Revelation 21.

Verse 7: Here we see a call for rejoicing, “for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His Bride has made herself ready.” Steve Gregg cites a couple of examples from elsewhere in the New Testament showing that this was an ongoing process during the generation after Christ’s ascension to the Father (pp. 442, 444):

A prerequisite of the coming of the marriage day is that His wife has made herself ready (v. 7). Chilton comments: “The duty of the apostles during the Last Days was to prepare the Church for her nuptials. Paul wrote of Christ’s sacrifice as the redemption of the Bride: He ‘loved the Church and gave Himself up for her; that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the Word; that He might present to Himself the glorious Church, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she should be holy and blameless’ (Eph. 5:25-27). Paul extended this imagery in speaking to the Corinthians about the goal of his ministry: ‘I am jealous for you with godly jealousy; for I betrothed you to one Husband, that to Christ I might present you as a pure virgin’ (2 Cor. 11:2-3).”

The preparedness of the bride involves two distinct aspects. On the one hand, the righteous acts that comprise her wedding attire are a gift of grace granted [v. 8] to her by God. On the other, she has made herself ready (v. 7). These bring out both man’s (I Tim. 4:16; I John 3:3) and God’s (Col. 1:22; Eph. 5:26) agency in the sanctification of the church (cf. I Thess. 5:15-24).

David Chilton echoes Gentry’s words earlier with this observation (Steve Gregg, p. 440):

[T]he destruction of the Harlot and the marriage of the Lamb and the Bride—the divorce and the wedding—are correlative events. The existence of the Church as the congregation of the New Covenant marks an entirely new epoch in the history of redemption. God was not now merely taking Gentile believers into the Old Covenant (as He had done under the Old Testament economy). Rather, He was bringing in “the age to come” (Heb. 2:5; 6:5), the age of fulfillment… With the final divorce and destruction of the unfaithful wife in A.D. 70, the marriage of the Church was firmly established.

The Parable of the Tenants (Matthew 21:33-45) foretold this divorce of faithless Israel, and the corresponding marriage of the Church (giving of the kingdom to the Church). The religious leaders of Israel (vs. 45), being guilty of murdering the prophets (vss. 34-36) and finally rejecting and murdering God’s Son (vss. 37-39, vs. 42), were to suffer the loss of the kingdom (vs. 43) when the owner of the vineyard came in judgment (vss. 40-41). The language of verse 44 (“And the one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him”) seems to be a clear reference to the catastrophic downfall of Jerusalem and temple-based Judaism in 70 AD.

Regarding Chilton’s statement that “the destruction of the Harlot and the marriage of the Lamb and the Bride…are correlative events,” we made the same observation in our study of chapter 17. There we compared the language of Revelation 17:1, 3 with the language of Revelation 21:9-10:

A. Revelation 17:1: “Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and said to me, ‘Come, I will show you the judgment of the great prostitute who is seated on many waters.’”

A. Revelation 21:9: “Then came one of the seven angels which had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues and spoke to me, saying, ‘Come, I will show you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb.’”

B. Revelation 17:3: “And he carried me away in the Spirit into a wilderness, and I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast that was full of blasphemous names.”

B. Revelation 21:10: “And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great, high mountain, and showed me the holy Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God.”

Verse 8: The bride is pictured clothed “with fine linen, bright and pure.” We are told explicitly that the fine linen is “the righteous deeds of the saints.”

Verse 9: An angel instructs John to write these words, “Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” A seemingly obvious parallel to this is The Parable of the Wedding Feast in Matthew 22:1-11, which follows directly after the Parable of the Tenants cited above. In this parable, speaking of the kingdom of heaven (vs. 2), a king (God) was to prepare a wedding feast for his son (Jesus), but those who were originally invited (the Jews) refused to come (vss. 3-5) and even killed the king’s servants who had invited them (v. 6). Therefore, these murderers were destroyed (cf. Matthew 23:29-38; Rev. 16:4-7, 17:6, 18:20, 18:24), and their city was burned (cf. Rev. 18:8-10, 18; 19:3). This is precisely what we see having happened in Jerusalem’s destruction and burning in 70 AD. The invitation then goes out to others (Gentiles as well as Jews; vss. 9-10), but only those with proper wedding garments were allowed to remain (vss. 10-14; cf. Rev. 19:8). Those who lacked these garments remained in outer darkness and were not part of the chosen people of God (vss. 13-14; cf. Matt. 8:11-12), despite the claims of John Hagee and other Christian Zionists to the contrary.

Verses 11-16: In this section we see Christ proceeding out of an open heaven on a white horse, followed by the armies of heaven, and wielding a sharp sword in His mouth. John’s description of Christ here is beautiful.

Interestingly, Josephus recorded that, in the spring of 66 AD shortly before the Jewish-Roman War began, a “star resembling a sword” appeared over Jerusalem (remaining for a year) and there were also many in Judea who saw chariots and soldiers running in the clouds:

“Thus were the miserable people persuaded by these deceivers, and such as belied God himself; while they did not attend nor give credit to the signs that were so evident, and did so plainly foretell their future desolation, but, like men infatuated, without either eyes to see or minds to consider, did not regard the denunciations that God made to them. Thus there was a star resembling a sword, which stood over the city, and a comet, that continued a whole year… Besides these, a few days after that feast, on the one and twentieth day of the month Artemisius, [Jyar,] a certain prodigious and incredible phenomenon appeared: I suppose the account of it would seem to be a fable, were it not related by those that saw it, and were not the events that followed it of so considerable a nature as to deserve such signals; for, before sun-setting, chariots and troops of soldiers in their armor were seen running about among the clouds, and surrounding of cities” (Wars 6.5.3).

The 1st century Roman historian, Tacitus, also said this:

“
There had been seen hosts joining battle in the skies, the fiery gleam of arms,
 the temple illuminated by a sudden radiance from the clouds” (Histories, Book 5).

Sam Storms shares how John draws from the background of the Old Testament:

A sharp “sword” from his mouth is used to “smite the nations”, which he rules “with a rod of iron” (v. 15). The OT background for this is found in Isa. 49:2; 11:4; and Ps. 2:9. He treads “the wine press” of God’s wrath (v. 15). This image is drawn from Isa. 63:2-6. See also Rev. 14:19-20.

Regarding “the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure” following Christ on white horses, are they [1] angels [2] humans? The best argument for their being humans comes from earlier in this chapter. Rev. 19:8 speaks of a company clothed with “fine linen, bright and pure,” and there is no doubt that these are believers (i.e. humans), for they are the Bride (verse 7) emanating “righteous deeds” (verse 8). Yet there is also some basis for the possibility that this army is angelic. Storms astutely notes, as we also did in our study of Revelation 15, the one instance where non-human entities are seen clothed in pure, white linen: “After this I looked, and the sanctuary of the tent of witness in heaven was opened, and out of the sanctuary came the seven angels with the seven plagues, clothed in pure, bright linen, with golden sashes around their chests” (Rev. 15:5-6).

As these angels in Revelation 15 came bearing judgment and plagues, it’s possible that they appear again here in chapter 19, as the context is once again judgment. That angels are in view here is further indicated by a parallel passage in Zechariah 14. There we read:

Behold, a day is coming for the Lord, when the spoil taken from you will be divided in your midst. For I will gather all the nations against Jerusalem to battle, and the city shall be taken and the houses plundered and the women raped. Half of the city shall go out into exile, but the rest of the people shall not be cut off from the city. Then the Lord will go out and fight against those nations as when He fights on a day of battle… And you shall flee to the valley of My mountains, for the valley of the mountains shall reach to Azal. And you shall flee as you fled from the earthquake in the days of Uzziah king of Judah. Then the Lord My God will come, and all the holy ones with Him (Zech. 14:1-5).

Some Bible translations agree with the ESV (quoted here) in using the phrase “the holy ones” (e.g. NIV, NASB, NLT, Young’s Literal Translation), while others use “holy angels” (e.g. Contemporary English Version). The King James Version uses the phrase “all the saints,” as does the NKJV. Interestingly, The Amplified Bible uses the phrase “saints and angels.” There are plenty of indications that Zechariah’s prophecy concerns the events of 70 AD, including the New Covenant language of Zech. 13:9, the reference to the taking of the city of Jerusalem (14:2), and the fleeing of God’s people to the mountains (14:5). For the sake of time and space, I will mention only one more indication (though there are many) that this text is speaking of the events of 70 AD. In Zech. 14:7 we read: “And there shall be a unique day, which is known to the Lord, neither day nor night, but at evening time there shall be light.” Josephus records a most interesting event which took place less than a year before Jerusalem was destroyed in 70 AD: “On the eighth of the month Zanthicus, (before the feast of unleavened bread) at the ninth hour of the night, there shone round about the altar, and the circumjacent buildings of the temple, a light equal to the brightness of the day, which continued for the space of half an hour” [Source: George Peter Holford, 1805].

The idea that angels are involved in the judgment of Rev. 19:14-15 is also consistent with the statement that Jesus made to His disciples in Matthew 16:27-28, where He said: “For the Son of Man is going to come with His angels in the glory of His Father, and then He will repay each person according to what he has done. Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom.” Some contend that this statement was fulfilled in Christ’s transfiguration six days later, because they find it impossible to avoid the fact that this prophecy was to find fulfillment within the lifetime of some who heard Him say these words. If this is the case, though, in what sense did Jesus “come with His angels” at that time and repay each person according to what he had done (a clear picture of judgment)? This explanation fails, because none of Jesus’ disciples died during the six days after Jesus made this statement, but some were indeed martyred before 70 AD. This text finds a clear parallel in Rev. 22:12 (“Behold, I am coming soon, bringing My recompense with Me, to repay everyone for what He has done“).

Verses 15-18: Here is fulfilled what was prophesied in Revelation 1:7. After all, this text (Rev. 19:11-16) speaks of Christ coming to strike down the nations, and being ready to “tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty” (vs. 15).

An additional note may be helpful here. This is the classic text regarding the famed “Battle of Armageddon” which many believe is to happen in our future. Many more details are actually given in two other texts: [1] Rev. 14:17-20, where the “winepress of the wrath of God” is also spoken of, and [2] Rev. 16:12-16, where the name “Armageddon” is actually named as a place. We noted in our study of Revelation 14 and also in our study of Revelation 16 that Tim Lahaye and other Futurist authors generally say this battle will happen in the plain of Megiddo. Author John Noe, on the other hand, notes that what the Bible refers to as a “battle on the great day of God the Almighty” (Rev. 16:14) would transpire “at the place that in Hebrew is called Armageddon” (Rev. 16:16). In Hebrew it’s actually “Har-Magedon,” as “har” means mountain in Hebrew (“Armageddon” is based on the Greek rendering, since “h” is silent in Hebrew). Therefore, this battle was to take place primarily on a mountain, not in a valley.[2] Noe adds,

The most likely case is that Revelation’s “Har” is Jerusalem. Geographically, Jerusalem sits on top of a mountain. To get there from any direction one must go “up to Jerusalem” (2 Sam. 19:34; 1 Ki. 12:28; 2 Ki. 18:17; 2 Chron. 2:16; Ezra 1:3; 7:7; Zech. 14:17; Matt. 20:17, 18; Mark 10:32, 33; Luke 18:31; 19:28; John 2:13; 5:1; Acts 11:2; 15:2; 21:12, 15; 24:11; 25:9; Gal. 1:17, 18). Jerusalem is also called God’s “holy mountain” (Psa. 43:3) and the “chief among the mountains” (Isa. 2:2-3; also 14:13; Exod. 15:17; Joel 2:32; 3:16-17)… “Magedon/Megiddo” may also be comparative imagery. A great slaughter once took place in the valley of Megiddo (2 Ki. 9:27; Zech. 12:11). Throughout ancient history, this valley was also a favorite corridor for invading armies and the scene of numerous famous battles (Jud. 4-7; 1 Sam. 29-31; 2 Sam. 4; 1 Ki. 9:15; 2 Ki. 9-10; 22; 2 Chron. 35). So much blood was shed in this valley of Jezreel or Megiddo that it became a synonym for slaughter, violence, bloodshed, and battlefield, as well as a symbol for God’s judgment (Hos. 1:4-5). In our day, Armageddon has also become synonymous with and a symbol for the ultimate in warfare and conflict.

In a similar fashion, the word “Waterloo” has garnered a symbolic use. Back in 1815, this town in Belgium was the battleground and scene of Napoleon’s final defeat. Today, we have a saying that some one or some thing has met their “Waterloo.” We don’t mean they have met that city in Europe. We mean, by way of comparative imagery, that they have met a decisive or crushing defeat, or their demise. I suggest Revelation employs the word Magedon/Megiddo in this same manner. History records that a great slaughter took place on a mountain in Palestine within the lifetime of the original recipients of the book of Revelation. In A.D. 70 the Roman armies of Titus totally destroyed Jerusalem and the Temple. According to Eusebius, 1.1 million Jews were killed.”

Josephus also records these details regarding the bloody slaughter that occurred immediately following the burning of the temple:

“[The Romans] ran everyone through [with swords] whom they met with, and obstructed the very lanes with their dead bodies, and made the whole city run down with blood, to such a degree indeed that the fire of many houses was quenched with these men’s blood” (The Wars Of The Jews, 6:8:5).

John Wesley (1703-1791) understood this event to be the fulfillment of these passages in Revelation, for he wrote the following in his commentary:

And the winepress was trodden – By the Son of God, Rev 19:15. Without [outside] the city – Jerusalem. They to whom St. John writes, when a man said, ‘the city,’ immediately understood this. And blood came out of the winepress, even to the horses’ bridles – So deep at its first flowing from the winepress! One thousand six hundred furlongs – So far! At least two hundred miles, through the whole land of Palestine.

The phrase “the nations” in verse 15 does not necessarily need to be understood as worldwide in scope, for in 70 AD the land of Palestine was made up of the following nations: [1] Phoenicia [2] Galilee [3] Samaria [4] Judea [5] Idumea [6] Philistia [7] Gualanitis [8] Decapolis [9] Perea [10] Nabatea.

File:First century palestine.gif

Photo Credit: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:First_century_palestine.gif

Kenneth Gentry adds his own reasons for allowing that the destruction of “the flesh of all men” (verse 18) could legitimately have been a local judgment, rather than a global one[3]:

[A]pocalyptic imagery often engages in hyperbole by making universalistic statements. For instance, Isaiah speaks of the destruction of Idumea in Isa 34 as if “all the nations” are to be “utterly destroyed” (34:2) and the universe is to collapse (34:4–5)… Second, even in more mundane contexts Scripture can make universal statements without requiring a global interpretation. Paul states that in his day the gospel was “proclaimed in all creation under heaven” (Col. 1:23), “in all the world” (Col. 1:6), “throughout the whole world” (Rom. 1:8). All agree that he is not claiming the gospel had been preached in South Africa, Antarctica, and Detroit. Elsewhere he is accused by the Jews of preaching “to all men everywhere [pantas pantachç]” (Acts 21:28). Again no record exists for his preaching in Cleveland or even in Gaul. If these statements can be made in mundane narratives, why can they not in apocalyptic drama?

On the fleshly feast prepared for “all the birds that fly directly overhead” (verse 17), Sam Storms has these thoughts:

Here the angel announces the coming destruction of the beast, false prophet, and their followers through the same imagery found in Ezek. 39:4,17-20 where the defeat of Gog and Magog is described. The picture of vultures or other birds of prey feasting on the flesh of unburied corpses killed in battle (see also Rev. 19:21b) was a familiar one to people in the OT (cf. Deut. 28:26; 1 Sam. 17:44-46; 1 Kings 14:11; 16:4; 21:24; 2 Kings 9:10; Jer. 7:33; 15:3; 16:4; 19:7; 34:20; Ezek. 29:5).

Steve Gregg comments further (pp. 452, 454),

The calling of the birds…for the supper of the great God (v. 17) is no doubt intended as a contrast to the marriage feast referred to in verse 9. Jay Adams writes: “Chapter 19 is the story of two suppers. They contrast sharply. One is a joyous marriage feast; the other the carnage of vultures.”

Chilton, who sees the losers of this battle—those who become food for birds—as Israel in A.D. 70, reminds us that “a basic curse of the covenant is that of being eaten by birds of prey (cf. Deut. 28:26, 49). Israel is now a sacrificial corpse (Matt. 24:28), and there is no longer anyone who can drive away the scavengers (cf. Gen. 15:11; Duet. 28:26). John’s language is borrowed from God’s invitation through Ezekiel ‘to every bird and beast of the field’ to devour the corpses of His enemies (Ezek. 39:17-20).”

Gregg’s conclusion that Israel had become the sacrificial corpse spoken of by Jesus in Matthew 24:28, fit to be the prey of birds, is interesting in light of one fact that the Jewish historian Josephus recorded concerning the Roman armies that decimated Jerusalem in 70 AD. I wrote the following in my term paper on this subject:

[George Peter] Holford [referencing Josephus in his 1805 work titled “The Destruction of Jerusalem”] picks up on the phrase spoken by Jesus in Matthew 24:28, “For wherever the carcass is, there the eagles will be gathered together.” Without being dogmatic on the meaning of this phrase, he notes that not only was Israel fit to be described as a carcass in 70 AD; being spiritually, politically, and judicially dead; but it was also a curious fact that the eagle was the principal figure on the Roman ensigns which were planted throughout the city of Jerusalem and finally in the temple itself.

In the preterist section of the bookFour Views on the Book of Revelation,” Kenneth Gentry points to another interesting detail recorded by Josephus (p. 81):

Christ is Israel’s ultimate judge (Matt. 24:29-30; 26:64); he is the one who makes war against her (Rev. 19:11; cf. Matt. 21:40-45; 22:1-7). He so severely judges her that her citizens receive no proper burial, being consumed by birds (Rev. 19:17-18). Robert Thomas well remarks: “The worst indignity perpetrated on a person in that culture was to be left unburied after death (cf. Ps. 79:2-3).” Josephus notes that the bodies of the dead in Jerusalem were “cast down from the walls into the valleys beneath” (Wars 5.12.3). Indeed, “those valleys [were] full of [unburied] dead bodies, and the thick putrefaction running about them” (Wars 5.12.4).

No doubt these thousands of unburied dead bodies would have been the very thing needed to attract “the birds that fly directly overhead.

We would also do well to remember that Revelation 17:16 states that the 10 horns, along with the beast, would not only burn the prostitute with fire, but would also “devour her flesh.

Verses 19-21: This passage briefly portrays one of the three judgments pronounced against the beast—the other two woes can be found in Rev. 13:10 and Rev. 16:10. In verse 20 we see that the beast is captured along with the false prophet, and thrown alive into the lake of fire. They are captured because they had gathered to make war against Him who was sitting on the horse and against His army (verse 19).

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[1] In earlier posts, we have noted that the phrase “the earth” (also properly translated as “land”) in Revelation is a frequent reference to Israel/Palestine (See, for example, the post on Revelation 1, where we examined the phrase “tribes of the earth” in verse 7, which is often thought to be worldwide in scope. When this prophecy is compared, though, to its counterpart in Zechariah 12:10-14, it’s clear that every one of those tribes belonged to the land of Israel).

[2] Sam Storms agrees that Scripture does not indicate a future battle in the plain of Megiddo, the ancient Canaanite stronghold, and that there is no such place as the Mountain of Megiddo (the literal rendering of Har-Magedon).

[3] Source: Kenneth Gentry, “Recapitulation v Progress.” This publication is a primer for a full-length, verse-by-verse commentary on Revelation which Gentry is currently working on. It’s the 13th among his Revelation Commentary Updates.