Thursday, April 26, 2007

Second Pass at This Weekend's Bible Lesson: Revelation 7:9-17

[To see the first pass and find an explanation of what these "passes" are about, go here.]

The Lesson: Revelation 7:9-17

A Few More General Comments
Context impacts content, as I've repeatedly said. So, a few more comments on the context of our lesson...

1. Immediately preceding our lesson, we have the breaking of six of the seven seals mentioned in the first pass.

2. The seals are on a scroll or book which, as also earlier mentioned, presents the human experience in the world. Jeske points out that the "book is held in the right hand of the Creator (5:1) as a sign that God has not abdicated his rule over this world, in spite of the terrors at work within it." [Note: The right hand represents power in the Bible.]

Revelation, like the rest of the Bible, is a courageous book. It upholds God's sovereignty while acknowledging that things happen in this world that don't conform to God's will for humanity.

In the face of the world's evils and of human suffering, some dismiss the "God hypothesis," while others "defend" God by portraying Him as a vengeful deity meting out punishment to a rebellious human race.

But the Bible and Christian faith refuse to take either of these easy options. The Bible insists that God has disclosed His sovereignty and His nature, most esepcially in Jesus' life, death, and resurrection. While God has the final say on human history, God refuses to force us to trust Him. The Bible also insists that even if people end up separated from God, it won't be by God's choice, but theirs.

[For more on the issue of suffering and faith in a gracious God, you might want to see my series called When Tragedy Hits the Innocent:
When Tragedy Hits the Innocent, Part 1
When Tragedy Hits the Innocent, Part 2
When Tragedy Hits the Innocent, Part 3
When Tragedy Hits the Innocent, Part 4
The Light of the World!]

3. Jeske and others point out that the first four seals bring about the emergence of "the four hoursemen," representing four perennial terrors in our world: "military conquest, internal violence, famine, and death."

4. With the fifth seal, Revelation moves to more specific terrors. Here, John talks about the persecution of Christians then being meted out by the Roman government. The cry for revenge in 6:10 echoes similar Old Testament pleas and has less to do with a desire to be personally avenged than it does with (1) affirming belief that God still has power and (2) wanting God's sovereignty to be vindicated.

5. The sixth seal is all about the parnoia of regimes and powers when events in the world demonstrate that they're not as in control as they pretend to be. Jeske writes, "The function of natural calamity is to remind human beings of the limitations of their power, that they do not have ultimate control over their lives."

6. The opening of the seventh seal will come much later in Revelation.

7. Immediately before our lesson, we're told of 144,000 "from the children of Israel" whose presence in eternity with God is assured, "sealed." This isn't to be read literally. It's another example of John's penchant for numerology. There were twelve tribes in ancient Israel, you know. There is a perfection or fulfillment being implied here: 12,000 X 12= 144,000.

After this group, John sees "a great multitude." The New Interpreter's Bible that isn't "sealed," and "so they do not seem to be given the protection offered as the result of being marked with the angelic seal." In other words, this group is subject to the terrors of the world, including official persecution, in spite of their faith in Christ. (Sometimes because of their faith in Christ.)

Here, John may be reading his particular historical situation into things. At the time he wrote Revelation, Rome had pretty much stopped persecuting Jews and was going after Christians. In the face of this persecution, some Jewish Christians were abandoning their faith in Christ, reclaiming their Judaism and in some cases, cooperating with authorities in the persecution of Christians. At this moment in time, it may have appeared to John that his fellow Jews, so long as they renounced Christ, were protected from persecution, while anyone owning the Lordship of Jesus could be arrested, beaten, tortured, imprisoned, or killed. (Of course, the sad history of "Christian" antisemitism demonstrates that none of us is immune to prejudice, a lack of integrity, or the violence of this world.)

I really do hope to get to verse-by-verse comments tomorrow.

No comments: