Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Revelation - and Apocalyptic

Sometimes this book is called 'The Apocalypse', see the title of Smalley's commentary, amongst many.
In this context I think 'apocalypse' refers to the Greek work 'apokalupsis' which is rendered in English versions as 'revelation', e.g. 1:1 - 'The revelation of Jesus Christ'.

Another term, 'apocalyptic' can be used to describe the genre, or type of writing that is employed in this book. Here the term refers to a form of writing in which standard symbols are used to represent usually elements of a vision which has been granted by God. There are examples of apocalyptic writing in Daniel 7-12 and Zechariah 9-14. It seems a strange form of writing to us, however, if we were to read a number of second Temple Jewish texts it would quickly become familiar.

From this I would make the following points:
1. John is trying to describe something which cannot be contained in human language. How can you describe the Lord Jesus as both one who has been slain and who is now reigning?
2. The code to the symbolic language would have been widely known, certainly to the Christians in Asia who received this text. It is not a code designed to be hard to break, to keep things secret from agents of the Roman Empire.
3. This is code, or picture, language we should not press the details into physical relality. The numbers are all symbolic and should not be treated as mathematical or arithmetical representations of quantity or value.

That this text is apocalyptic does not however change the nature of the text as a letter. It is from beginning to end a letter to the seven churches and intended to have meaning and be useful to them.

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