Introduction to the New Testament – Part Two


The Community of John. 1

Book of Revelation. 29

Gnostic Texts and John. 109

The Gospel of Truth (180-200 AD) 109

The Apocryphon of John (before 185 AD) 112

Odes of Solomon, ca 100 AD.. 115

Ignatius, 100-120 AD.. 117

Apocalyptic Texts. 119

Martyrdom of Isaiah (0-100 AD) 119

II Enoch (0-100 AD) 120

Testament of Abraham (0-100 AD) 122

Life of Adam and Eve (65-70 AD) 123

Apocalypse of Abraham 9-32 (70-100 AD) 124

II Esdras. 125

New Testament Morality and Ethics. 127

Bibliography. 139

Additional Notes. 140


The Community of John

I would now like to turn my attention to the next great tradition within the New Testament; that which represents the production of the Johannine community. The difference of the Gospel of John with the first three gospels gives rise to much discussion. Every gospel includes an historical element, noting in particular the introduction to Luke. However, the primary purpose of a gospel is theological, in that it seeks to persuade the reading to believe in a follow Jesus as the Christ. Comparison of John with the first three gospels predisposes the scholar to view John as an outsider. Since the first three gospels agree with each other so much, it gives the impression that John is another world. When it comes to historical material, most modern scholars leave out John as providing reliable historical data concerning Jesus. Assuming that John has reliable historical data, the impression is that the Gospel wants to provide a profounder theological vision than the other gospels.

            The orientation of John shares a common story with the Synoptic Gospels and with Paul, but also moves into different territory theologically. There are enough connections with the synoptic tradition to make one wonder if John is not aware of at least some form of their tradition. However, if the tradition of the church is right, that the apostle John is behind in the text, written in Ephesus, then that would explain the commonality that exists with the Synoptic Gospels. At the same time, it is clear that another figure close to John provided the theological unity that one sees at every level of the Gospel. This view of authorship would maintain the apostolic nature of the text. The Hellenistic disciple of the apostle had a large degree of freedom to bring theological unity to the text. The evidence from the gospel suggests a privileged position to an early tradition, combined with an early interpretation by the apostle, and with further theological shaping done by the Hellenistic disciple. The apostolic authority behind John explains the connections with Luke as well.


            2:13-22, cleansing of the temple.

            3:1, with Luke 18:18, a leader of Jews coming to JEBUS with a question. 3:29 with Luke 5:33-36, bridegroom.

            4:46-54 with Luke 7:1-10, cure of a Roman's son.

            5:8-9 with Mark 2:11-12, healed person to pick up their mat. 5:14 with Mark 2:5, healing connected with forgiveness of sin. 5:19-20c, a parable.

            6:1-15, the miracle of the feeding of the 5000. 6:16-21, Jesus waLukeing of the sea of Galilee to the disciples. 6:34 with Lord's Prayer, "bread", forming basis for whole discourse. 6:67-71 with Matthew 16:16 and mark 8:31-33, Peter's profession of faith and mention of Satan immediately after. 7:3 with Luke 4:9-12, tempting God by putting oneself in danger. 7:14 with Mark 1:22 and 6:2, going to synagogue to teach. 7:20 with Matthew 12:24-27, people thinking Jesus insane. 7:53-8:11, adulterous woman forgiven, though the early church had a problem accepting this story because they had developed strict penitential practices.  Language similar to Luke. 8:12, with Matthew 5:14, light of the world. 8:35, a parable.

            10:1-3a, a parable on sheepgate.

            10:3b-5, a parable on shepherd.

            12:1-11, anointing at Bethany.

            12:24, a parable

            12:25 with Luke 9:24 on losing one's life. 12:26, a saying on servanthood.

            12:27-30, agony of Gethsemane.

            13:16 with Matthew 10:24 and Luke 6:40, servant not greater than master. 18:18 with Mark 14:18 on one eating with Jesus will betray.

            13:21-30 with Matthew 26:21-25, 50, betrayal by Judas foretold. 

13:36-38 with Luke 14:13 with Matthew 15:1-6, parable of 15:18 with Matthew 15:20 with Matthew 15:27 with Matthew 22:31-34, Peter taking a sword with him. 7:7-11, whatever you ask in the name of Jesus. the true vine.

            10:22 on the world hating disciples.

            10:24-25, servant not greater than master. 10:18-20, disciples to be witnesses.

            16:1 with Matthew 24:10, disciples intended to not fall away. 16:2 with Matthew 10:17 on expelled from synagogues.  16:2 with Matthew 24:9, persecution of disciples done in God's name. 16:21, a parable.

            18:1-11, Arrest of Jesus.  18:12-27, Jesus before Annas and Caiaphas and Peter denies him, Luke 22 :54-62.  18:28-19:16a, Jesus before Pilate, extended discussion of the nature of the kingship of Jesus, with Mark 15:1-5, 15-20. 19:16b-42, crucifixion, death, burial, along lines of Jesus as king and priest. Connections with synoptic account throughout. 20:1-10, empty tomb.

20:11-18, appearance to Mary, see Matthew 28:9-10.

20:19-29, appearance to disciples, Bee Luke 24:36-49.

20:21 with Matthew 28:19, sending of the disciples into world. 20:23 with Matthew 16:19 and 18:18 on forgiving the sins of others. 21:1-2 with Luke 5:4-10, the large catch of fish.

All of this suggests that behind the Gospel of John is a pre-synoptic tradition that shares much in common with Luke. The tradition is independent of the synoptic tradition. The author presumes knowledge of more sayings and miracles, but this does not mean specifically synoptic material. However, the use of common material suggests that the theological purpose of the author predominates. He wants to delineate the eschatological bringer of revelation and salvation. He wants to display the radiant glory of the Logos as he lives on earth and dwells among us. He wants to disclose the ever-present significance of the saving events that lie in the past. The words once spoken by the Son of God when he came into the world, are to become audible as his unremitting and ever urgent interpellation. The earthly Jesus is understood as the Christ who continues to be present in his community, in its preaching, worship, and sacraments he is the present Christ. Through the Holy Spirit, he wanted to link up the time of Jesus, the bearer of the Spirit, with the time of the Spirit. The Spirit is imparted to the faithful in the words of Christ, in the sacraments that realize and render fruitful the saving events, through the mediation of the church, which takes over with the mission of Jesus his preaching and his authority.

In John, Jesus speaks in long, involved discourses in which no parables appear and with only a rare saying can be isolated.  In the synoptic gospels Jesus speaks primarily in short sayings or parables, of which seem to be the preferred method of teaching.  Jesus seems to become a philosopher, a lecturer, and a mystic. In the synoptic gospels, Jesus speaks much about the poor and outcasts of society, while in John he speaks primarily about himself.  Such self-revelation of Jesus in John stems from a theological interpretation of the evangelist. Jesus speaks in full consciousness of his unity with the Father, which continues on earth as the Incarnate Word. The author wishes the reader to hear Jesus, and not himself as the author. Thus, most scholars leave John behind when considering what Jesus said, while they often use it for mature reflection upon the nature of Jesus and Christology.  At this point, I must accept that assumption until more scholars can demonstrate to the satisfaction of others that John may represent the more intimate instructions of Jesus.  Though some have argued for this, it has not gained acceptance. The task is not view the gospel as an historical document and as a preaching document, giving an account of the word and deed of Jesus. With the Gospel of John, we find it particularly important to discover its theological language and assertions. In its temporal dress, we must perceive the eternal message that the Gospel wishes to bring to us.

            The connections with I John are interesting as well.  People took phrases from the gospel and used them for moving toward Gnosticism.  We can see this in the prologue to the gospel, which appears to be a hymn from Asia Minor or Ephesus, possibly learned as people entered the fellowship of the Johannine churches.  Yet, this precious hymn was becoming used to justify Gnosticism.  I John argues against it at these points:


            1:la with I John 1:la

            1:lb with I John 2:de

            1:4a with I John 1:lf

            1:4b with I John 1:5d

            1:5a with I John 1:5e

1:10c with I John 2:3

1:14a with I John 1:2a

1:14b with I John 1:2f

1:14c with I John 1:ld

1:16a with I John 1:3de

1:17b with I John 1:3de

1:18b with I John 1:3de


            The opinion is now common that the Gospel is the aggregate result of a long process of literary formation, comprising strata of diverse age and origin. It is subject to the same laws of growth as that of the synoptic gospels, and calls for the same methods of research. For example, a sign source has a high degree of probability, given seven signs recounted more or less fully. One is the marriage feast at Cana in 2:1-11. Two is the healing from a distance in Cana in 4:46-54. Three is the multiplication of the loaves in 6:1-15. Four is the waling on the waters in 6:16-21. Five is the miracle at the pool of Bethesada in 5:2-9. Six is the healing of the man born blind in chapter 9. Seven is the raising of Lazarus from the dead in chapter 11.

            John stands close to Hellenistic Judaism. The allegorical use of the Old Testament has some similarity with Philo. Further, the development of the Logos concept provides a link to the Hellenistic world of Judaism, Gnosticism, and Stoicism. The text also has some connection with rabbinic forms of argument. Some texts in Qumran have similar wording; light and darkness, truth and lie, spirit and flesh. They also share an interest in predestination. Although the gospel has strong Jewish roots, it also opens up to the Hellenistic world. Texts like Odes of Solomon, Gospel of Truth, Gospel of Phillip, and Apocryphon of John, are particularly close to John. It also bears a strong resemblance to the Epistles of Ignatius.

H. Richard Niebuhr used the epistle of I John as a prime example of the Christ against culture theme of the relationship between Christianity and culture. The isolationist tendency in the Gospel and epistles shows itself in that the dominant theme of loving each other has a limit of members of the community. These writings appear to command love for each other, but not for the enemy. Believers have no duties or obligations toward the world, but rather only toward each other. Believing and abiding in Christ are what matters.

John has a basic Christological interest. Every question about the central theological interest of John must start with the what the author asserts is the purpose of his book in 20:31:


John 20:31 (NRSV)

31 But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.


The focus of the author is on faith in the person of Jesus, and the saving power of Christ. The reference to believing may refer to missionary aim, but it may also refer to confirming the faith of those who already believe. The author wants believers to have a more profound and stable faith. This faith has the power to impart life. In this sense, Christology orients itself toward soteriology.

            John poses the question of the salvation of humanity and the world. Jesus is the savior of the world, a universalist view deeply rooted in the basic structure of the Johannine concept of the world. Rather than focusing upon Jew and Gentile, he views humanity as living in darkness until God sends the revealer. John overcomes the dualistic view of the world through Christ. Christ unites the divine world and the human world, descending from the divine world into the human world, and then returning to the Father. By the loving act of sending the Son, the light penetrates as the unconquerable power of love. The emphasis is on the whole way of redemption from the Incarnation to the lifting up in the cross as a redemptive happening, as the fetching home of humanity to the divine world. However, John integrates the redemption through the expiatory sacrifice of the cross, as in I John 2:2, 4:10, 1:7. The person of Jesus is important in the attainment of salvation.

            John also proposes a realized eschatology, for one who believes “has” eternal life. The blessings of salvation are already present, as the essence of the salvation already attained in faith in Christ. The question is, what has led to this realization and actualization? The strongest motive is the Christology, which sows the glory of the Logos still dwelling in the earthly Jesus, and the power of the exalted and glorified Lord already present in his word and work of salvation. In John, Christ is really the eschatological present.

            The sacraments become the presence of Christ. The sacraments would then be means of importing into the present time the work of our salvation accomplished by Jesus that they recall as they bring his power into play. The mysticism of John refers to being in and abiding in Christ. The living and fruitful union in grace between the believer and Christ is the full realization of the fellowship of Jesus with his disciples. The series of profound religious utterances that have been termed, somewhat misleadingly, the Johannine mysticism of union with Christ and God, remains intrinsically linked to the Johannine picture of Jesus, the Christ, to the self-revelation of the earthly Jesus as well as to the glorification of the Christ. The Johannine mysticism of fellowship with Christ is inseparable from ethics. The concentration of ethics on love is due to his concept of Christ as an expression of the love God has for the world.

            The church is present in the theology of John. The church is the responsible agent for the sacraments and the liturgy, one can see that the church is still more deeply rooted in the thought of John. The same is true in the teaching on the Paraclete. In the person of Christ, the theological principle that enable him to re-think the revelation of Christ proclaimed by the primitive church and to disclose its depths. The church as the flock and the vine suggest unity of the church with Christ.

            Light is the illumination of one's existence by God, a genuine self-understanding of one's self as the creature of God. Darkness does not seize this possibility. One shuts oneself off from the God shown in the light of creation. Darkness turns away from the source of one's existence. Truth means living in the reality of God. Falsehood or the lie is falling away from the reality of God. One exists from one's origin, and must therefore live one's life from God or from the world. Creation is perverted into world by the delusion that humanity is the source of its own existence.

            The sending of the Son is as from a foreign power. The sending is the deed of the love of God. The coming of Jesus is the eschatological event, signaled in titles like Messiah, Son of Man, and Son of God. His appearance means judgment upon the world. This historicizing of eschatology had already begun in Paul and represents part of the common story of the New Testament. As the Word, Jesus does not communicate information but offers himself. This revelation from God brings offense to the world. The death of Jesus becomes the exaltation of Jesus, rather than atonement. When John uses terms like bread, light, door, way, shepherd, vine, he refers to something that humanity must have in order to have genuine life. Jesus is the one who satisfies the longing humanity has. As the revealer of God, Jesus reveals nothing other than that he is the revealer.

            Faith is the demand to leave the security of the world in its separation from God or autonomy from God and a turn toward the invisible and uncontrollable realm of God. Faith overcomes the offense given by Jesus in terms of the world. As an entry into eschatological life, it is joy and peace. It is life in Christ. It is life abiding in him, and therefore faithful. It is a life of prayer. It is a possession of the Spirit. Note that John has little interest in the church as an organization.

            Believe in Jesus as the Son. Love one another. Behind these two key statements is a pre-understanding of the world living in a darkness of which it is unaware. The Logos has come into the world as the light of the world in order to show the world the darkness in which it exists. He is the way, truth and life; he is the Good Shepherd; he is the Bread of Life; the source of life-giving water; the resurrection and the life. Ethics becomes Christology in the sense that passing from light to darkness depends on believing in Jesus. The primary beneficiaries of the love of which John writes are other members of the community. As he notes in I John, those who disagree with the author are anti-Christ, a term that would not appear very loving to those to whom the author directs the charge. Discipleship means abiding in Jesus.

            John would appear to have some anti-Jewish tendency, occasioned by the contemporary situation. Yet, this does not exclude a missionary intention with regard to Jews of the Diaspora who were people of good will.

            John would also appear to have an anti-Gnostic tendency in his emphasis upon the Incarnation. Yet, the imagery in John led some authors in the second century to suggest that the text arose out of Gnostic sources.

            The hymn in 1:1-18 contains an original hymn, originating in Hellenistic Judaism and its reflection upon Wisdom, but now adapted by the community of John for its theological purpose. This text, rooted in early Christian reflection upon who Jesus was, reflects upon the Word intimately united with God and with humanity, shown both in Jesus and in the light and life given to humanity. The text also reminds us of the separation between God and humanity through the rejection of the Word. He is also the unique Son. Importantly, all of these themes connect well with themes the Gospel develops throughout.


John 1:1-5, 9, 10-12, 14, 16 (NRSV)

 In the beginning was the Word,

and the Word was with God,

and the Word was God.

2 He was in the beginning with God.

3 All things came into being through him,

and without him not one thing came into being.

What has come into being 4 in him was life,

and the life was the light of all people.

5 The light shines in the darkness,

and the darkness did not overcome it.

9 The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.

10 He was in the world,

and the world came into being through him;

yet the world did not know him.

11 He came to what was his own,

and his own people did not accept him.

12 But to all who received him,

who believed in his name,

he gave power to become children of God,

14 And the Word became flesh and lived among us,

and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son,

full of grace and truth.

16 From his fullness we have all received,

grace upon grace.


            John describes the beginning of the public ministry of Jesus in 1: 19-4:54.  In that period, there is a progression of the titles given to Jesus. Beginning in 2:1-4:54, various responses are given to Jesus.  John testifies concerning Jesus, climaxing with these statements:


John 1:29 (NRSV)

Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!

John 1:34 (NRSV)

And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.

John 1:36 (NRSV)

Look, here is the Lamb of God.


The disciples also provide further insight into Jesus through the titles they give him.


John 1:41, 49 (NRSV)

He (Andrew) first found his brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated Anointed).

John 1:49 (NRSV)

Nathanael replied, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!”


The disciples believe after the miracle at the wedding in Cana, which was a sign of messianic abundance.  It may also have Eucharistic implications.  This is supported by the next story, the cleansing of the Temple, giving a second response to Jesus, that of the Jewish leaders hostility.


John 2:23 (NRSV)

… many believed in his name because they saw the signs that he was doing.


Chapter 3 gives the response of another Jewish leader, an example of partial or tentative belief.  Such a nocturnal encounter with a religious leader may well reflect an accurate historical memory of incident in the life of Jesus. There is also a Trinitarian theme throughout.  It becomes an occasion for the writer to reflect upon new birth. This also becomes the occasion of the first discourse in John, around the baptismal theme of rebirth. 


John 3:3 (NRSV)

Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.”

John 3:5 (NRSV)

Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit.

John 3:8 (NRSV)

The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”


This passage also offers the self-revelation of Jesus.


            John 3:35 (NRSV)

The Father loves the Son and has placed all things in his hands.

John 3:36 (NRSV)

Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever disobeys the Son will not see life, but must endure God’s wrath.

John 3:15 (NRSV)

that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.

John 3:16 (NRSV)

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.


Chapter 4 gives the response of the Samaritans, which symbolizes their receiving of Jesus.  It follows the theme of baptism again, this time using the image of living water.  There is a further progression of awareness in the woman, moving from "a greater man than Jacob" to a prophet, to the Messiah.  The end of chapter 4 includes the last response to Jesus, this time Roman, who, along with the disciples and the Samaritans, is said to have believed. The writer takes a special interest in this incident in Samaria. This is probably due to a number of reasons. One is the context of the narrative, the faith of the half-pagan Samaritans who accepted Jesus so whole-heartedly and welcome him to their homes stands out all the more strinkingly against the background of the superficial crowds in Jerusalem and the bewildered spiritual leader Nicodemus. Faith is wanting our inadequate among the people of Jesus, but the response among the non-Jewish world is quick and eager. Further, here is where Jesus, in the course of his self-revelation, can disclose his mission as savior of the world. This universalism permeates the whole Gospel. The readers, mostly gentile Christians, can see a striking example of it here. Further still, we may perhaps go further and suspect that the author has a special interest in the mission to Samaria, which the primitive Church, and the Hellenist Philip took up at an early date. Lastly, this narrative provided a good occasion for treating a theme that was important to the Johannine communities, the liturgical worship. The text shows Jesus as the one who satisfies the thirst for life.


John 4:14 (NRSV)

The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.”


The text also shows the need to worship genuinely.


John 4:23 (NRSV)

But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him.


The text gives a self-revelation by Jesus.


John 4:34 (NRSV)

Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work.


The text also shows the missionary impulse of the Johannine community.


John 4:35 (NRSV)

Do you not say, ‘Four months more, then comes the harvest’? But I tell you, look around you, and see how the fields are ripe for harvesting.

John 4:42 (NRSV)

They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Savior of the world.”


            In chapters 5-12, the writer transfers Jesus’ words and signs to the public domain. The revelatory discourses began in chapters 3 & 4, though only with individuals Nicodemus and the Samaritan woman. Now, the revelatory discourses take place among the Jews. They become disputes about belief and unbelief. These eight chapters contain four great signs, expanding to five if one includes walking on the lake. Revelatory discourses reveal their Christological meaning. The character of the signs as a revelation of Christ by means of actions is made clear. The healing of the blind man and the raising of the dead are the culmination of this revelation through signs: Jesus is the light and life. The framework of the religious calendar is not accidental. From Chapter 7, the feasts appear in an invariable order: the feast of Tabernacles in 7:2, the Dedication of the Temple in 10:22, and the Passover in 11:54. The account contains two dramatic climaxes, the peak of popular support in Galilee that leads, after the miracle of the loaves, to an external action and is followed by a reversal when Jesus’ disciples leave him, and the last surge of the movement of faith after the miracle of Lazarus near Jerusalem. The long chapters that describe Jesus’ activity in Jerusalem show an increasing bitterness in Jesus’ clash with the Jews, even though their hostility has not wavered since chapter 5.

            The conflict between belief and unbelief takes place in the capital of the Jewish world. It is there that the question as to whether Jesus is Messiah is passionately debated. It is there too that the Jewish theocracy had its seat of government and its greatest influence. The opposition between Jesus and the Jews reaches its pitch of greatest intensity at Jerusalem and the Jewish leaders make their final decision there. In John, Judaism, which decided against Jesus, and its metropolis, in which Jesus was crucified, becomes the symbol of unbelief and hostility towards the Son of God and the event of Christ’s death becomes a conflict of fundamental importance between belief and unbelief or between God and the world. The emphasis placed on the hostility of the Jews at the time of Jesus would have reminded the readers of the influential leaders of the Jewish world, perhaps those in the neighboring Jewish community, of their own time. The positive revelation of Christ and its significance for humanity’s salvation, however, far transcends the author’s apologetical and polemical purpose. Jesus’ revelation of himself as the giver of life, then, is central here, but there are also other elements, some of them new.

            The healing of the cripple at the Pool of Bethesda leads to Jesus’ bearing witness to himself as the Son who works with the Father and who has power to give life and to raise to life. The context in which Jesus’ discourse is placed in Chapter 5, however, is much more strongly polemical and this brings the other side of Jesus’ saving mission clearly to light, namely that whoever does not believe in the Son is condemned. Just as the Son has full power to pass on life, so too has he authority to judge. Closely connected with this idea of judgment is that of Jesus’ bearing witness to God.

            Chapter 5 follows the pattern of an event, a healing on the Sabbath, followed by a discourse by Jesus.  The continued response of the Jewish leadership is to reject and desire to kill him. Jerusalem will reject Jesus, and John wants to show why. Jesus calls himself the Son in light of his relationship with the Father and in a way fundamental to the whole discourse and our understanding of the revelation of God in Jesus Christ. The Son carries out the function that belongs to God, namely, to give life in all its depth and fullness and in this way makes God’s concern for man visible. He is God’s unique, ultimate, historical and eschatological revelation in the world. His coming to reveal God in history has made it possible for humanity to move from the sphere of death into that of life and to achieve his true existence, the life that he was intended to lead. This section is one of the most profound in the whole gospel. Jesus’ calling himself the Son can be explained theologically in the light of his relationship with the Father and in a way that is fundamental to the whole discourse and our understanding of God’s revelation in Jesus Christ. The Son carries out the function that belongs to God alone, namely to give life in all its depth and fullness and in this way makes God’s concern for humanity visible. He is God’s unique, ultimate, historical, and eschatological revelation in the world. His coming to reveal God in history has made it possible for humanity to move from the sphere of death into that of life and to achieve his true existence, the life that he was intended to lead. His own need to make decisions is in no way taken away from him by the Son’s revelation of himself, but it is true to say that only those who believe in the Son and thus in the one who sent him, in other words, the Father who presents and offers himself in history in the Son, will gain life. Those who close themselves to the Son and refuse to believe come under judgment. They remain in the sphere of death and condemn themselves to death as a lasting fate.


John 5:19-24 (NRSV)

19 Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, the Son can do nothing on his own, but only what he sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, the Son does likewise. 20 The Father loves the Son and shows him all that he himself is doing; and he will show him greater works than these, so that you will be astonished. 21 Indeed, just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whomever he wishes. 22 The Father judges no one but has given all judgment to the Son, 23 so that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father. Anyone who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him. 24 Very truly, I tell you, anyone who hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life, and does not come under judgment, but has passed from death to life.

John 5:26 (NRSV)

26 For just as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself;

John 5:30 (NRSV)

30 “I can do nothing on my own. As I hear, I judge; and my judgment is just, because I seek to do not my own will but the will of him who sent me.


This chapter also has concern for testimony: John the Baptist, the works, the scriptures, and Moses.

            Chapter 6 is the miracle of the loaves, followed by a discourse by Jesus that Jesus is the bread of life.  This seems to be John's account of the Last Supper, as he offers his own body to the people to eat.  It also appears to by a message based upon Exodus 16:15d, "He gave them bread from heaven to eat.” The bread may well become wisdom. We find a key statement as to the significance of this bread:


John 6:27 (NRSV)

27 Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For it is on him that God the Father has set his seal.”


The bread is discussed on v. 35-43, from heaven in v. 44-48, and to eat in v. 48-58.  Jesus reveals who he is, based upon the sign offered earlier:


John 6:35 (NRSV)

35 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.

John 6:48 (NRSV)

48 I am the bread of life.

John 6:51 (NRSV)

51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”


Eating sustains life. In John, it overcomes death. The writer focuses on the need for faith, highlighting the contemporary issue of belief and unbelief. We might also note that John develops a specifically Son Christology. He emphasizes the functional character of this Christology, the theme of revelation and salvation that it articulates, and its anthropological and existential point of departure. If John addressed himself to the yearning by his contemporaries for salvation and even took account of the Gnostic redeemer-myth, we need to consider the meaning of human existence and human history in light of this Son Christology. Jesus Christ is our access to the Father, the revelation in this world of the remote, invisible God. Jesus is the disclosure of the love of God for the world, which otherwise remains hidden and incomprehensible to us. Jesus is the light that makes sense of our existence and the way that we can attain to its goal. The Son Christology of John is concerned with these matters.


John 6:40 (NRSV)

40 This is indeed the will of my Father, that all who see the Son and believe in him may have eternal life; and I will raise them up on the last day.”


John 6:47 (NRSV)

47 Very truly, I tell you, whoever believes has eternal life.


The emphasis on Eucharist attacks a Gnostic or docetic group within his community that rejected the reception of the Eucharist. That audience has now changed from unbelieving Judaism in the metaphorical discourse to a heretical group within the church. The emphasis upon eating the flesh and drinking the blood of Jesus is a graphic way of making real in the Eucharist the general spiritual them of the believer dwelling in Christ and of Christ dwelling in the believer. The focus of the sacrament, as well as the special grace received in it, is to move us away from ourselves and from the elements of bread and wine, and toward our union with Christ. In the Eucharist, the believer identifies with Christ, and Christ identifies with the believer. John paints the picture graphically.


John 6:53-58 (NRSV)

53 So Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54 Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; 55 for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. 56 Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. 57 Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.”


The Galilean ministry of Jesus ends in Peter's profession of faith and a reference to Judas, who would betray him.  That ministry ends in rejection.


John 6:63-64 (NRSV)

63 It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. 64 But among you there are some who do not believe.”

John 6:66-69 (NRSV)

66 Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him. 67 So Jesus asked the twelve, “Do you also wish to go away?” 68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69 We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”


            Chapter 7 deals with the right of Jesus to teach, with an emphasis on Jesus as wisdom coming from heaven. This swift succession of scenes, with no long discourse by Jesus and several discussions about him in various circles, is unique in John, and striking. If we are right in thinking that he has set out to give a dramatically heightened account of the course of the activity of Jesus, we have now reached the stage when the forces of belief and unbelief are locked in struggle. We read of opposition from the brothers of Jesus, who remain externally related to Jesus, but have concerns about the dishonor Jesus brings to the family. The section reaches its climax. Externally, this is marked by the great feast day at the end of the festal week, when the ceremony of drawing water was performed with special solemnity. Internally, the climax is reached in the word of revelation for which the ceremony provided the occasion: it is a powerfully expressed word, one of the most beautiful images used by Jesus as John portrays him. The invitation to come to him, the source of life, echoes on through time to later generations of believers.


John 7:37-39 (NRSV)

37 Jesus cried out, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, 38 and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, ‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.’ ” 39 Now he said this about the Spirit, which believers in him were to receive; for as yet there was no Spirit, because Jesus was not yet glorified.


            Chapter 8 is a combination of discourses around the theme that Jesus is the light of the world and a discussion of the relationship between himself and Abraham. 

            The story of the adulteress affirms the central theme of the message of Jesus: God desires to exercise mercy and to accomplish it in the person of Jesus. From this point of view, the story is closely related to that of the penitent sinner in Luke. The question raised in this text is one that was subject of lively debate in the Judaism of the time of Jesus. Jesus decides unambiguously against the Torah and its representatives. Jesus forgives unconditionally and on his own authority.

            The section from 8:12-59 is loosely connected, without any new context, to chapter 7. These discourses can be thought of as taking place in the period after Tabernacles. Jesus has stayed in Jerusalem and continued to teach in the Temple. The writer is not dependent on the historical situation and its details. The revelation by Jesus and his dispute with the unbelieving Jews continue and are meant to emphasize for the later community the claim of Jesus and the contradiction of unbelief. The section is still connected with the themes of the feast of Tabernacles. At the beginning, we hear the revelation of Jesus as the light of the world, a saying that probably has a symbolic connection with the festive illuminations of Tabernacles. There are other clear links with chapter 7, and less closely, with chapter 5. Internally, the people there are groups inclined to believe in Jesus; others, who raise objections to the Messiahship of Jesus, oppose them. In the end, the unbelief of the ruling groups proved dominant. It is with this that the following disputes are conducted. In accordance with the scene depicted by the gospel as a whole, this unbelief hardens in the capital, Jerusalem, and reveals its essential hostility to God. The themes of descent from Abraham and the relation of Jesus to the Father Abraham show that the writer is concerned with a theological confrontation with Judaism, an official and theological discussion, which was taking place in his day. The interest in the Jews who had believed in him in v. 31 is probably also connected with this. This polemic is continued in the disputes in chapter 9. However, the discussion between Jesus, the eschatological revealer, and the unbelieving Jews goes beyond a merely contemporary context. It contains the great theme of revelation, the identity of Jesus, where he comes from and where he is going, his own testimony that he is from above and his opponents from below, the saving announcement that he, the Son, frees people from slavery to sin, that he announces saving truth, and his word has power to conquer death, ad that these concerns every person and are part of the permanent revelation of Jesus Christ. They can only be understood, however, in contrast to the worldly and egocentric view of life of actual historical individuals, and this is what the Jews with their objections and their own claims represent. This is why the language is consistently sharply dualistic, reaching a climax in the opposition between children of God and children of the devil. Just as the section begins with a great word of revelation, so it culminates in a saying that embodies the highest claim by Jesus. However, the representatives of unbelief reject all his words and the arguments intensify to become bitter attacks. Total variance divides the two sides, and at the end the Jews pick up stones to thrown at Jesus, who hides and leaves the Temple. The breach is complete. Seen as a whole, chapter 8 has the function of revealing the widening, by now almost unbridgeable, rift between Jesus and unbelief.


John 8:12 (NRSV)

12 Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.”

John 8:23 (NRSV)

23 He said to them, “You are from below, I am from above; you are of this world, I am not of this world.

John 8:28-29 (NRSV)

28 So Jesus said, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will realize that I am he, and that I do nothing on my own, but I speak these things as the Father instructed me. 29 And the one who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what is pleasing to him.”

John 8:31-32 (NRSV)

31 Then Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; 32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”

John 8:34-36 (NRSV)

34 Jesus answered them, “Very truly, I tell you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. 35 The slave does not have a permanent place in the household; the son has a place there forever. 36 So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.

John 8:42 (NRSV)

42 Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and now I am here. I did not come on my own, but he sent me.

John 8:51 (NRSV)

51 Very truly, I tell you, whoever keeps my word will never see death.”

John 8:58 (NRSV)

58 Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, before Abraham was, I am.”

Chapter 9 becomes the example of one born blind encountering Jesus and receiving his sight, while the Jewish leadership, who claim to see, are in fact blind.  This chapter forms an independent unit, but is also skillfully fitted into its context. V. 1 connects directly with the departure of Jesus from the Temple . The theme of Jesus as the light of the world, developed in the healing of the blind man, stands in relation to the word of revelation at 8:12. The gulf that has opened between Jesus and the Jews depends further. The Pharisees, who reappear here as speakers, reject Jesus obstinately and irrevocably. Their unbelief, their sinful blindness, contrasts with the attitude of the blind man, who opens himself to God’s call and comes to faith in Jesus. There is further reference to being a disciple of Jesus, and more questions about the origin of Jesus and identity. Note the progression of the man's awareness of who Jesus is. 


John 9:5 (NRSV)

5 As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”

John 9:25 (NRSV)

25 He answered, “I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.”

John 9:39 (NRSV)

39 Jesus said, “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.”


            Predestination suggests a company of believers chosen by God was influenced by the historical situation of the community of John. In the middle of an unbelieving environment and laboring under attacks and disadvantages, it will have drawn closer together and developed its sense of identity. The community knows that it has been sent into the world to all people without distinction, but the people who in fact listen to their missionary preaching, a minority only, are, to their mind, the people brought to the community by God, the children of God scattered in the world, who show themselves to be such by their faith. From this point of view too the opposition remains, and the mystery of how God’s predestination and the human decision to believe interrelate to made no easier. At the level of the community, there is a continuation of what we have observed in the Gospel with the preaching of Jesus: a vigorous appeal for a decision to believe alongside statements that God gives and brings believers to Jesus. These are two lines that run side by side, and cannot be combined, even to the eye of faith. The question arises whether and how far in these antithetical statements John is influenced by ideas that antedate him. Judaism tends to stress human free will because of the obligation to observe the Law. The idea of God’s fore-ordinance is not, indeed, unknown to the rabbis, but it does not abolish human freedom. It was not until a later period that the idea of divine predestination was further developed in rabbinic teaching and the relation between free will and predestination became a problem. The idea of predestination was familiar to rabbinic Judaism, but hardly influential. In the apocalyptic literature the term “the elect” often occurs with reference to the members of the saved community. It denoted, down to the period of later apocalyptic, the members of the peope of Israel as contrasted with the godless heathen peoples. Moreover, the idea is less the predestination of individuals than the saving of the whole group, as it were the body of the elect. We might note points of contact with Qumran. One is that we come across statements with a predestinarian ring concerning God’s choice, his prevenient grace and the way people are brought to the community. Two is divine predetermination does not remove free human choice. Three is that those who resist or reject are presented as being under the sway of a power hostile to God. Four, nevertheless they are not released from responsibility for their actions. Five, the result is two sets of statements that cannot be completely reconciled, and this fits both experience and the theological intention in each case. There is no effort to produce a comprehensive theological synthesis. For John, the hard heart are the Pharisaic and rabbinical ruling groups of the Judaism of his day, and their hardness of heart is the culmination of all Jewish rejection of God, though at the same time the paradigm case of all human blindness, because they did not believe in the revealer accredited by God. For him, this is an unexplained puzzle, which leads into the mystery of the divine decree and yet does not remove the obscurity of human guilt.

            Chapter 10 is reflection on the two parables told at the beginning, one on the sheepgate and the other on the good shepherd.  The gate leads to salvation.  The shepherd lays down his life for the sheep and knows the sheep.  Viewed from the thematic standpoint as a unity, chapter 10 gives rise to questions as to its meaning and its function within the perspective of John. The parables about the shepherd and the sheep that belong to Jesus and follow him, refusing, however, to listen to strangers, are not without significance.


John 10:1-5 (NRSV)

 “Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit. 2 The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. 3 The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. 5 They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.”


What is likewise seen to fit well into the picture is Jesus’ renewed clash with the disbelieving Jews and their first attempt to stone him at the Feast of the Dedication. The withdrawal of Jesus into the territory east of the Jordan helps to explain the newly-arisen state of affairs and aptly links up with the final coming-to-a-head of the quarrel in Jerusalem. Yet the pastoral discourses in v. 1-18 appear to relate to the Feast of Dedication rather than to the Feast of Tabernacles, inasmuch as they are no longer considered to evidence any intrinsic bearing on the latter. In the farewell discourses, especially in Chapter 17, the theme of Jesus the shepherd and the sheep belonging to him remains operative, even though the imagery itself is not used. Thus, the flock of believers belonging to Jesus assembles. It is watched over by him. It will subsequently grow into a larger community of faith. The polemic that emerges beyond any question from the parables needs to be weighed in terms of the Chapter’s contents vis-à-vis the preceding and subsequent material and, too, of the writer’s historical perspective. The derivation of the imagery here employed merits our attention, though it alone does not avail to unveil the background completely. As it is, positive themes preponderate. The Christological self-revelation by Jesus, which is underlined by the I am expressions and leads on to the prospect of this life-sacrifice.


John 10:7, 9-10, 11a (NRSV)

7 So again Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep.

9 I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.

I am the good shepherd.


It suggests the solidarity of Jesus with his own as well as the consolidation of the faithful into a community that, once it included the other sheep, the Gentiles, would become the one flock under the one shepherd. This ecclesial aspect now crops up in the wake of the allusions in the preceding Chapter to the expulsion from the synagogue of one of the followers of Jesus. The ministry in Jerusalem at the end of chapter 10 ends with the direct challenge as to who Jesus is from the Jewish leadership, and who reject his claim to messiahship and his claim to be one with God. 


John 10:30

I and the Father are one.

John 10:38b

… the Father is in me and I am in the Father.


They seek to arrest him.  However, Jesus goes to Transjordan and finds some outside Israel who believe. 

            Chapter 11-12 is an insertion, evidenced by the fact that "the Jews" refers here to the people rather than to the leadership, the sequence of the travels of Jesus, and it offers a specific and dramatic reason for the crucifixion.  As Jesus gives the gift of life to Lazarus, his friend, he sets in motion events that lead to his own death.  The text becomes an example of the realized eschatology of the book, as present belief Jesus is resurrection and life. The bitter confrontation with Jewish unbelief is followed by another act of self-revelation from Jesus, in a sign that forms the climax of all the signs by Jesus, the raising of Lazarus. A word of revelation in the center of the chapter gives it its literal interpretation. Its Christological and soteriological significance are also briefly mentioned in the introduction and at the climax of the narrative. Together with the healing of the man born blind, the raising of Lazarus expresses the central Christological idea of the fourth gospel, that Jesus is the light and life of the world, as said in 1:4. Eternal life is present in John because of the ever-present Christ.


John 11:23-26 (NRSV)

23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24 Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” 25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”


Wherever he found the story, the writer has placed this greatest of signs of Jesus as bringer of life quite deliberately at this point in his gospel. The starting-point is Christ, the life-giver sent by God who has come down from heaven and gives life to the world. This life of God is given to all who accept his revelation and believe in him. The gift and promise of life is the answer to the human search for meaning. And salvation. The life humanity receives through Christ is a divine reality, a share in the life of God, the living Father and source of all life. This divine life carries the moral obligation of love for others. This view has some kinship with Gnostic concepts of life, even though they have different views of salvation. People cannot break out of the imprisonment of darkness and death. People will always try to gain the eternal through clinging to the transitory. Faith in the divine life-giver opens the possibility of fullness of life. One can understand and proclaim this vision of life where people still search for the meaning of human life. The context is of the individual human being. It has no direct connection with life in society or the future of the human race. Nevertheless, the danger of a narrow preoccupation with individual salvation is avoided because the individual striving for eternal life is directed towards the community of the brothers and sisters and the practice of love as a condition for reaching the goal. As the drama of the battle between belief and unbelief reaches its height, it is a final powerful stimulus for faith, which makes many more people come to believe in Jesus, so that the Jewish leaders view the swelling flood with extreme anxiety. This drives them to prepare a counter-attack, and take an official decision in the council to kill Jesus. In the writer’s deeper vision, it is no accident that at the moment that the Son of God gives the supreme demonstration of his power over life, the unbelievers resolve to destroy him and take all the steps necessary to that end. The path to the cross is marked out in advance, but it is marked in the plan of God. The raising up on the cross will become the glorification of God in the Son. The sign of the raising of the dead is already pointing towards this final glorification, and the high priests involuntary prophecy shows how human purposes inevitably serve the plan of God.

            Chapter 12 becomes a reflection upon the meaning of the death of Jesus, with the anointing being a symbolic embalming, with the hour approaching, and with the unbelief of the Jews expressed in clear fashion.


John 12:23-26 (NRSV)

23 Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24 Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. 25 Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.

John 12:28 (NRSV)

28 Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.”

John 12:31-32 (NRSV)

31 Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. 32 And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”


v. 44-50 is a summary of the mission of Jesus being to bring light to the world. 


John 12:37 (NRSV)

37 Although he had performed so many signs in their presence, they did not believe in him.

John 12:44-50 (NRSV)

44 Then Jesus cried aloud: “Whoever believes in me believes not in me but in him who sent me. 45 And whoever sees me sees him who sent me. 46 I have come as light into the world, so that everyone who believes in me should not remain in the darkness. 47 I do not judge anyone who hears my words and does not keep them, for I came not to judge the world, but to save the world. 48 The one who rejects me and does not receive my word has a judge; on the last day the word that I have spoken will serve as judge, 49 for I have not spoken on my own, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment about what to say and what to speak. 50 And I know that his commandment is eternal life. What I speak, therefore, I speak just as the Father has told me.”


            The balance of the work of revelation is a negative one. It prompts the gloomy question why people did not believe. The final word to the reader is an appeal to join with the faithful witnesses of the work of faith in him by Jesus, the Messiah and Son of God. On both occasions, the writer refers to the great signs of Jesus. In spite of the number of the signs, most people did not believe, but the readers are to believe because of the signs recorded in the gospel, to which the author could have added many more. The end of chapter 12 is not an assessment of the success of the life of Jesus, in the sense of historical survey, but a theological analysis that tries to understand Jewish unbelief in scriptural terms and looks at the situation in the writer’s own time.

            Chapters 13-20 express the theme that the hour is come, the signs of the death of Jesus are over and the glorification of Jesus begins.  The washing of the feat of the disciples replaces the Lord's Supper, which had been given its own discourse in chapter 6. It is an example of the love Jesus has for them, and that they are to have for each other.


John 13:1-20 (NRSV)

Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. 2 The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper 3 Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, 4 got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. 5 Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. 6 He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” 7 Jesus answered, “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” 8 Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” 9 Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” 10 Jesus said to him, “One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you.” 11 For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, “Not all of you are clean.”

12 After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? 13 You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. 14 So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15 For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. 16 Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. 17 If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them. 18 I am not speaking of all of you; I know whom I have chosen. But it is to fulfill the scripture, ‘The one who ate my bread has lifted his heel against me.’ 19 I tell you this now, before it occurs, so that when it does occur, you may believe that I am he. 20 Very truly, I tell you, whoever receives one whom I send receives me; and whoever receives me receives him who sent me.”


The farewell discourses are in 13:31-17:26, with 13:31-­38 being the introduction, 14:1-31 being duplicated in 16:4b-33, and with reflections on the true vine in 15 and the final prayer of Jesus in 17.  In 14: 1­-14, Jesus is the way; in v. 15-24 there is reference to the Spirit, Jesus, and the Father. v. 25-31 refers to the departure of Jesus and the coming of the Holy Spirit. 


John 14:1-7 (NRSV)

 “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. 2 In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. 4 And you know the way to the place where I am going.” 5 Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” 6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7 If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”

John 14:9-14 (NRSV)

9 Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. 11 Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves. 12 Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. 13 I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.


John 14:15-17 (NRSV)

15 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. 17 This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.

John 14:20-21 (NRSV)

20 On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. 21 They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.”

John 14:23-24 (NRSV)

23 Jesus answered him, “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. 24 Whoever does not love me does not keep my words; and the word that you hear is not mine, but is from the Father who sent me.

John 14:25-27 (NRSV)

25 “I have said these things to you while I am still with you. 26 But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. 27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.


As Jesus concludes the chapter by saying, "Come now, let us go," it is likely this was the original ending of the discourse, which would have gone directly to 18:1. 

An editor has edited this reflection on the true vine and a duplicate and the prayer of Jesus.


            Chapter 15 has a Eucharistic meaning in the setting of the Last Supper. 15:18-27 is John's version of the eschatological discourse contained in the synoptic tradition, with the theme of the world hating Jesus and the disciples. 


John 15:1-17 (NRSV)

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. 2 He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. 3 You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. 4 Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. 5 I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. 6 Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. 7 If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples. 9 As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11 I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.

12 “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13 No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15 I do not call you servants any longer, because the servantdoes not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. 16 You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. 17 I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.

John 15:26-27 (NRSV)

26 “When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father, he will testify on my behalf. 27 You also are to testify because you have been with me from the beginning.


John 16:12-15 (NRSV)

12 “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. 14 He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. 15 All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.


            The prayer of Jesus in chapter 17 is similar to the prologue. v. 1-8 is a prayer for glory, v. 9-19 is prayer for disciples and all believers, v. 20-26 is a prayer for future believers. 


John 17:1-5 (NRSV)

After Jesus had spoken these words, he looked up to heaven and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you, 2 since you have given him authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. 3 And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. 4 I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do. 5 So now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed.

John 17:17-26 (NRSV)

17 Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. 18 As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. 19 And for their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth.

20 “I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, 21 that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, 23 I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. 24 Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory, which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.

25 “Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me. 26 I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”


            The passion story is recounted above, with its connections with the synoptics and some of its basic themes. One interesting development is that John seems to have a theme for the crucifixion scene.  Jesus is king in v. 17-22; Jesus is priest in v. 23-24.  Jesus provides for the future in v. 25-27 as Mary represents the church and is given to the care of the Beloved Disciple who represents the church.  The thirst of Jesus for God and the completion of God's work and the giving of the Spirit are all symbolized in v. 28-30.  Baptism and Eucharist as centered in Jesus are symbolized in v. 31-33. 


John 18:36-38 (NRSV)

36 Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.” 37 Pilate asked him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” 38 Pilate asked him, “What is truth?”

John 19:25-35 (NRSV)

25 And that is what the soldiers did.

Meanwhile, standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26 When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, “Woman, here is your son.” 27 Then he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.

28 After this, when Jesus knew that all was now finished, he said (in order to fulfill the scripture), “I am thirsty.” 29 A jar full of sour wine was standing there. So they put a sponge full of the wine on a branch of hyssop and held it to his mouth. 30 When Jesus had received the wine, he said, “It is finished.” Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

31 Since it was the day of Preparation, the Jews did not want the bodies left on the cross during the sabbath, especially because that sabbath was a day of great solemnity. So they asked Pilate to have the legs of the crucified men broken and the bodies removed. 32 Then the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first and of the other who had been crucified with him. 33 But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. 34 Instead, one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once blood and water came out. 35 (He who saw this has testified so that you also may believe. His testimony is true, and he knows that he tells the truth.)


            John has a distinctive approach to the discovery of the empty tomb and to the resurrection appearances.


John 20:1-2 (NRSV)

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. 2 So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.”

John 20:11 (NRSV)

11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb;

John 20:15-18 (NRSV)

15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). 17 Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’ ” 18 Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.


John 20:19-29 (NRSV)

19 When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

24 But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

26 A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”


In the resurrection appearances, one of the interesting developments is the appearance to Peter contained in the Epilogue, 21:1, 3-9a, 10-11, 14-17.  Peter had denied Jesus three times.  Now, three times, Jesus asks Peter, "Do you love me?" He also is given the commission, "Feed my sheep." The forgiveness of Peter symbolizes the editor's hopes for the churches to be brought together, the Jewish Christian, Gentile, and Johannine churches all have a place. 


John 21:1 (NRSV)

After these things Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias; and he showed himself in this way.

John 21:3-9 (NRSV)

3 Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.

4 Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. 5 Jesus said to them, “Children, you have no fish, have you?” They answered him, “No.” 6 He said to them, “Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish. 7 That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on some clothes, for he was naked, and jumped into the sea. 8 But the other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, only about a hundred yards off.

9 When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread.

John 21:10-11 (NRSV)

10 Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” 11 So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred fifty-three of them; and though there were so many, the net was not torn.

John 21:14-17 (NRSV)

14 This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.

Jesus and Peter

15 When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” 16 A second time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.” 17 He said to him the third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.


The belief that Jesus would return before the death of the Beloved Disciple is dismissed here as a misinterpretation.

            John is aware of the existence of the synoptic tradition described above, though he probably did not have the written sources in front of him. Similarities with them at various points, especially with Luke, suggest this possibility.  Though it is not his purpose to displace the synoptic gospels, he wishes to differ from the tradition that underlies them.  This can be seen the way in which John treats similar events also in the synoptic gospels.  John is especially concerned with the Christ present in the church that he experienced.  Thus, each individual event of the life of Jesus is shown to be at the same time the Christ present in the church.  This gospel is nothing other than theological reflections upon the historical Jesus.  It is as if he wants to show that the historical Jesus is at the same time the Christ alive in their midst.  Behind this, of course, is the conviction that the revelation of God in Jesus as the Christ is the climax of all divine revelation.  Thus, as we look at this purpose of the gospel, one of the concerns of John is to show that the Johannine church is just as legitimate as the other apostolic churches.  After all, it can also trace its history back to Jesus, as this gospel attempts to do.  The author allows himself to believe that, inspired by the Spirit, he is able to express the deeper meanings of the events of life of Jesus, as understood from his perspective long after the death and resurrection of Jesus.

            The style of John has come under some attack, claiming it is rather monotonous.  It is possible, however, that this was intentional.  It does not follow a logical order.  Rather, he seems to consider the same truth from more than one perspective.  He is especially concerned to demonstrate the direct links between the Christ experienced in the Johannine churches with the historical Jesus.

            John would appear to be influenced by a Judaism that would not be considered orthodox by any means.  Thus, there are connections with Qumran and the Essenes, especially in their anti-temple bias and being convinced of the corruption of Jerusalem.  There are also connections with the Samaritan religion. Some of the language of Gnosticism is repeated in John, though this needs to be viewed in light of the dominance of Christology throughout the book as well.

            John would appear to be based upon some traditional material.  It began among Palestinian Jews around John the apostle.  The Beloved Disciple likely became part of the community at this time.  He continued in the tradition of John after the apostle's death by 50 AD.  They accepted Jesus as the Davidic messiah.  Jews with an anti-Temple bias and Samaritans and some with Qumran community, people who view Jesus in the light of Moses, join the Johanine community.  The Beloved Disciple helps the community make the shift from synagogue to church after their excommunication and helps develop the "high" Christology for which John is noted.  The Gospel is written around 90 AD, the purpose being to put the John the Baptist sect in its proper place, continue the argument with the Jews, present the case against Christian heretics, especially Gnosticism, and provide an encouragement to believers within the Johannine community to continue with the church.  At this point, the author of the gospel comes into more intentional contact with other apostolic churches.  Though they do not accept the high Christology of the Johannine community, the author can also see the rapid disintegration of his own community. 

            The I and II Epistles are written around 100 AD, and III John around 110 AD.  These letters seem pessimistic, speaking about the "last hour." However, the purpose is to reinforce belief and morality of the readers against a group that has seceded and is doing the work of what he views to be anti-Christ.  The approach appears to be a commenting upon the gospel, which the author's opponents used to advance their own ideas.  We can substantiate this by the historical fact that there were many commentaries on the gospel by Gnostic authors.  John designed the Gospel to promote a high Christology.  People now used it to deny the humanity of Jesus.  This led to a moral indifference, giving no salvific importance to ethics.  They also believed in perfectionism and freedom from sin.  They also had no love for the community of faith.  It is clear that the author and those who follow him will join the rest of the apostolic churches, and eventually they will accept the high Christology of John.  However, it is also clear that most of the Johannine community leave and join the Gnostic community.  It is possible that Ignatius of Antioch continues the Johannine tradition into the second century.

            The Johannine community may have drawn from the less orthodox aspects of Judaism.  This would have been in contrast to the Jewish Christians, represented by James, Peter, and the other disciples. It would appear that this community drew its strength from what is described in Acts as the difference between Hebraic and Hellenistic.  The latter were interested in the theological considerations of worship being freed from the confines of the temple and with the development of Christology, they were interested in a mission to Samaria, and they seemed more open to the non-orthodox forms of Judaism.  To these non­orthodox Jews were added, at an early stage, Samaritans who came to believe in Jesus.  In all this, the Johanine community continued in the traditions of Jesus.   He also had close contacts with unofficial, non-orthodox Judaism.  He seemed to believe the official Judaism was corrupt, putting its emphasis on details of law while omitting the main point of one's relationship with God.  He believed the Judaism that surrounded Jerusalem was corrupt, and he clearly had little respect for the temple expressions of faith.  His connections with John the Baptist may place him even closer the baptismal movements of the day, including the Essenes.  He also seems to have an affinity for the Samaritans, in his story of the Good Samaritan being the clearest example.

            John makes a serious call to costly discipleship and love. The death of Jesus is out of the love God has for the world. Although John emphasizes love within the community, the community can hardly remain indifferent to the darkness in which the world lives.

1 John 3:11 (NRSV)

11 For this is the message you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another.

1 John 3:16-18 (NRSV)

16 We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. 17 How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?

18 Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.

1 John 4:20-21 (NRSV)

20 Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. 21 The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.


Talk of love has practical implication in action toward each other. Under the difficult circumstances of internal and external battle, the Johannine community defined itself sharply from the Jews and the world. It was an oppressed minority. These texts encourage love and unity in the midst of a hostile world. The appeal for love becomes an appeal for solidarity in the midst of many challenges to their life together.

            Further, these writings also make the extraordinary appeal that we do not have to wait for judgment or eternal life in the future. We experience it now, through our relationship to Christ. Our response to Christ constitutes life or judgment now. Death and life become an orientation to life that we experience now. The community already lives in the fullness of life now, through its believing and abiding in Jesus. Love within the community becomes the sign of liberation from darkness and death. He emphasizes the present eternal life of believers, although he does not supplant the future hope of the Christian community.

            The Paraclete comes to teach the community the things that Jesus did not teach them. They have communal guidance through the presence of the Spirit to face new circumstances and challenges.

            This community rejects sin formally, even though it does not get into extended discussion of it. The one who abides in Christ does not sin. Yet, we also find a better summary in these words:


1 John 2:1 (NRSV)

My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous …


Book of Revelation

I now turn my attention to one of the more debated, confusing, and ignored books of the New Testament.  The book of Revelation has been a challenge to interpreters for centuries.  My most recent study included Ford’s commentary in the Anchor Bible. 

What I have found most helpful is to understand this text as a poetic insight into the spiritual battles that the writer and believers faced at the end of the first century. Consequently, believers of every age need to be aware that the world situation can reach the critical spiritual crisis of which the writer speaks. The world is not always in this crisis. Paul could write of cooperating with the Roman Empire and obeying the authorities. For him, Rome provided a political structure that allowed the spread of the gospel. However, several decades later, the situation changed. One needs wisdom, insight, and discernment, in order to adequately perceive the nature of the spiritual battle believers face. For Revelation, the spiritual crisis arose because of the aggressive array of political and religious forces arrayed against the church that expressed itself in the demand given to believers to deny their faith in Jesus Christ or experience imprisonment, hardship, persecution, and death. When a government takes this stance toward the people of God, the church needs to beware of compromise with evil. The need for discernment at this point is that all governments and religious institutions do not take this aggressive approach to the church. Some degree of appreciation for a culture that treats the church and its mission with at least indifference is something of which the church needs to discern as well. In fact, some cultures have allowed the flourishing of faithful witness and even welcome the involvement of believers in the structures of government. The church rightly experiences gratitude for such political structures.

My approach denies that we can easily discern “the beast” or “666,” as if the events portrayed here are like the TV Guide, showing us the next scenes in world history. For Revelation, consistent with the rest of the New Testament, the end-time event has already occurred. Everything that needs to occur in order for the “Bride” and “New Jerusalem” to fill the earth has already occurred. Of course, the event of which I write is the appearance of Jesus of Nazareth, who is also “King of kings, Lord of Lords,” the Son of God, and the Word of God. To be specific, when we replace Jesus with the creation of the political state of Israel as the event that triggers end-time events, we actually shift our focus from what God has done in Jesus Christ to certain political events today. I do not believe the church will ever thrive when it makes the center of its theological reflection anything other than Jesus Christ. For people who get too caught up in this book as a foretelling of specific scenes of our future, I can only say, “What about Jesus?”

It is interesting that the book contains very little Christology outside of Chapters 1-3 and 22.  The only references to the historical Jesus are in Chapters 5, 11, and 12.  There is no teaching concerning the Holy Spirit, and little reference to the church.  This evidence suggests that the book was written in stages.  Chapters 4-11 may have been from John the Baptist or one of his followers around 30 AD.  Chapters 12 through 22:15 could be by a disciple of John the Baptist in 60-70 AD. A Jewish Christian around 70 AD wrote Chapters 1-3, 22:16ff.  Of course, regardless of previous stages, the canonical text as it is confronts the reader with its message. The purpose of the book in its final form would be to reveal the nature of world events in such a way as to encourage the faithful to accept martyrdom, if necessary.

            The symbols of the book are where the difficulty arises in interpretation. I take the position that those who first read the book must have understood it.  This seems obvious, but it is not.  People continually want to apply the symbolism of the book to their own day.  This may well be natural.  After all, all of us have a curiosity about the future.  However, to force the book into such a mode is to ignore what the book meant to those who first read it.

            We need two keys to understand this book

            One key consists in reflecting upon certain Old Testament texts. The author utilizes these texts to express the crisis of the present and the hope for the future.

            One such text is the plagues of Egypt. In the progression of seven judgments that the seals, trumpets, and bowls unleash, the author considers that the plagues against Egypt God will visit upon the earth. Although the intent seems to be repentance and a change of heart by the people, the actual result is hardening of the heart against God and the people of God. This response mirrors the response of Pharaoh.


Exodus 7-12 (NRSV)

7 The Lord said to Moses, “See, I have made you like God to Pharaoh, and your brother Aaron shall be your prophet. 2 You shall speak all that I command you, and your brother Aaron shall tell Pharaoh to let the Israelites go out of his land. 3 But I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and I will multiply my signs and wonders in the land of Egypt. 4 When Pharaoh does not listen to you, I will lay my hand upon Egypt and bring my people the Israelites, company by company, out of the land of Egypt by great acts of judgment. 5 The Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord, when I stretch out my hand against Egypt and bring the Israelites out from among them.” 6 Moses and Aaron did so; they did just as the Lord commanded them. 7 Moses was eighty years old and Aaron eighty-three when they spoke to Pharaoh.

Aaron’s Miraculous Rod

(Ex 4.1—5)

8 The Lord said to Moses and Aaron, 9 “When Pharaoh says to you, ‘Perform a wonder,’ then you shall say to Aaron, ‘Take your staff and throw it down before Pharaoh, and it will become a snake.’ ” 10 So Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and did as the Lord had commanded; Aaron threw down his staff before Pharaoh and his officials, and it became a snake. 11 Then Pharaoh summoned the wise men and the sorcerers; and they also, the magicians of Egypt, did the same by their secret arts. 12 Each one threw down his staff, and they became snakes; but Aaron’s staff swallowed up theirs. 13 Still Pharaoh’s heart was hardened, and he would not listen to them, as the Lord had said.

The First Plague: Water Turned to Blood

14 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Pharaoh’s heart is hardened; he refuses to let the people go. 15 Go to Pharaoh in the morning, as he is going out to the water; stand by at the river bank to meet him, and take in your hand the staff that was turned into a snake. 16 Say to him, ‘The Lord, the God of the Hebrews, sent me to you to say, “Let my people go, so that they may worship me in the wilderness.” But until now you have not listened. 17 Thus says the Lord, “By this you shall know that I am the Lord.” See, with the staff that is in my hand I will strike the water that is in the Nile, and it shall be turned to blood. 18 The fish in the river shall die, the river itself shall stink, and the Egyptians shall be unable to drink water from the Nile.’ ” 19 The Lord said to Moses, “Say to Aaron, ‘Take your staff and stretch out your hand over the waters of Egypt—over its rivers, its canals, and its ponds, and all its pools of water—so that they may become blood; and there shall be blood throughout the whole land of Egypt, even in vessels of wood and in vessels of stone.’ ”

20 Moses and Aaron did just as the Lord commanded. In the sight of Pharaoh and of his officials he lifted up the staff and struck the water in the river, and all the water in the river was turned into blood, 21 and the fish in the river died. The river stank so that the Egyptians could not drink its water, and there was blood throughout the whole land of Egypt. 22 But the magicians of Egypt did the same by their secret arts; so Pharaoh’s heart remained hardened, and he would not listen to them, as the Lord had said. 23 Pharaoh turned and went into his house, and he did not take even this to heart. 24 And all the Egyptians had to dig along the Nile for water to drink, for they could not drink the water of the river.

25 Seven days passed after the Lord had struck the Nile.

The Second Plague: Frogs

8 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Go to Pharaoh and say to him, ‘Thus says the Lord: Let my people go, so that they may worship me. 2 If you refuse to let them go, I will plague your whole country with frogs. 3 The river shall swarm with frogs; they shall come up into your palace, into your bedchamber and your bed, and into the houses of your officials and of your people, and into your ovens and your kneading bowls. 4 The frogs shall come up on you and on your people and on all your officials.’ ” 5 And the Lord said to Moses, “Say to Aaron, ‘Stretch out your hand with your staff over the rivers, the canals, and the pools, and make frogs come up on the land of Egypt.’ ” 6 So Aaron stretched out his hand over the waters of Egypt; and the frogs came up and covered the land of Egypt. 7 But the magicians did the same by their secret arts, and brought frogs up on the land of Egypt.

8 Then Pharaoh called Moses and Aaron, and said, “Pray to the Lord to take away the frogs from me and my people, and I will let the people go to sacrifice to the Lord.” 9 Moses said to Pharaoh, “Kindly tell me when I am to pray for you and for your officials and for your people, that the frogs may be removed from you and your houses and be left only in the Nile.” 10 And he said, “Tomorrow.” Moses said, “As you say! So that you may know that there is no one like the Lord our God, 11 the frogs shall leave you and your houses and your officials and your people; they shall be left only in the Nile.” 12 Then Moses and Aaron went out from Pharaoh; and Moses cried out to the Lord concerning the frogs that he had brought upon Pharaoh. 13 And the Lord did as Moses requested: the frogs died in the houses, the courtyards, and the fields. 14 And they gathered them together in heaps, and the land stank. 15 But when Pharaoh saw that there was a respite, he hardened his heart, and would not listen to them, just as the Lord had said.

The Third Plague: Gnats

16 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Say to Aaron, ‘Stretch out your staff and strike the dust of the earth, so that it may become gnats throughout the whole land of Egypt.’ ” 17 And they did so; Aaron stretched out his hand with his staff and struck the dust of the earth, and gnats came on humans and animals alike; all the dust of the earth turned into gnats throughout the whole land of Egypt. 18 The magicians tried to produce gnats by their secret arts, but they could not. There were gnats on both humans and animals. 19 And the magicians said to Pharaoh, “This is the finger of God!” But Pharaoh’s heart was hardened, and he would not listen to them, just as the Lord had said.

The Fourth Plague: Flies

20 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Rise early in the morning and present yourself before Pharaoh, as he goes out to the water, and say to him, ‘Thus says the Lord: Let my people go, so that they may worship me. 21 For if you will not let my people go, I will send swarms of flies on you, your officials, and your people, and into your houses; and the houses of the Egyptians shall be filled with swarms of flies; so also the land where they live. 22 But on that day I will set apart the land of Goshen, where my people live, so that no swarms of flies shall be there, that you may know that I the Lord am in this land. 23 Thus I will make a distinction between my people and your people. This sign shall appear tomorrow.’ ” 24 The Lord did so, and great swarms of flies came into the house of Pharaoh and into his officials’ houses; in all of Egypt the land was ruined because of the flies.

25 Then Pharaoh summoned Moses and Aaron, and said, “Go, sacrifice to your God within the land.” 26 But Moses said, “It would not be right to do so; for the sacrifices that we offer to the Lord our God are offensive to the Egyptians. If we offer in the sight of the Egyptians sacrifices that are offensive to them, will they not stone us? 27 We must go a three days’ journey into the wilderness and sacrifice to the Lord our God as he commands us.” 28 So Pharaoh said, “I will let you go to sacrifice to the Lord your God in the wilderness, provided you do not go very far away. Pray for me.” 29 Then Moses said, “As soon as I leave you, I will pray to the Lord that the swarms of flies may depart tomorrow from Pharaoh, from his officials, and from his people; only do not let Pharaoh again deal falsely by not letting the people go to sacrifice to the Lord.”

30 So Moses went out from Pharaoh and prayed to the Lord. 31 And the Lord did as Moses asked: he removed the swarms of flies from Pharaoh, from his officials, and from his people; not one remained. 32 But Pharaoh hardened his heart this time also, and would not let the people go.

The Fifth Plague: Livestock Diseased

9 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Go to Pharaoh, and say to him, ‘Thus says the Lord, the God of the Hebrews: Let my people go, so that they may worship me. 2 For if you refuse to let them go and still hold them, 3 the hand of the Lord will strike with a deadly pestilence your livestock in the field: the horses, the donkeys, the camels, the herds, and the flocks. 4 But the Lord will make a distinction between the livestock of Israel and the livestock of Egypt, so that nothing shall die of all that belongs to the Israelites.’ ” 5 The Lord set a time, saying, “Tomorrow the Lord will do this thing in the land.” 6 And on the next day the Lord did so; all the livestock of the Egyptians died, but of the livestock of the Israelites not one died. 7 Pharaoh inquired and found that not one of the livestock of the Israelites was dead. But the heart of Pharaoh was hardened, and he would not let the people go.

The Sixth Plague: Boils

(Deut 28.27)

8 Then the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Take handfuls of soot from the kiln, and let Moses throw it in the air in the sight of Pharaoh. 9 It shall become fine dust all over the land of Egypt, and shall cause festering boils on humans and animals throughout the whole land of Egypt.” 10 So they took soot from the kiln, and stood before Pharaoh, and Moses threw it in the air, and it caused festering boils on humans and animals. 11 The magicians could not stand before Moses because of the boils, for the boils afflicted the magicians as well as all the Egyptians. 12 But the Lord hardened the heart of Pharaoh, and he would not listen to them, just as the Lord had spoken to Moses.

The Seventh Plague: Thunder and Hail

13 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Rise up early in the morning and present yourself before Pharaoh, and say to him, ‘Thus says the Lord, the God of the Hebrews: Let my people go, so that they may worship me. 14 For this time I will send all my plagues upon you yourself, and upon your officials, and upon your people, so that you may know that there is no one like me in all the earth. 15 For by now I could have stretched out my hand and struck you and your people with pestilence, and you would have been cut off from the earth. 16 But this is why I have let you live: to show you my power, and to make my name resound through all the earth. 17 You are still exalting yourself against my people, and will not let them go. 18 Tomorrow at this time I will cause the heaviest hail to fall that has ever fallen in Egypt from the day it was founded until now. 19 Send, therefore, and have your livestock and everything that you have in the open field brought to a secure place; every human or animal that is in the open field and is not brought under shelter will die when the hail comes down upon them.’ ” 20 Those officials of Pharaoh who feared the word of the Lord hurried their slaves and livestock off to a secure place. 21 Those who did not regard the word of the Lord left their slaves and livestock in the open field.

22 The Lord said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand toward heaven so that hail may fall on the whole land of Egypt, on humans and animals and all the plants of the field in the land of Egypt.” 23 Then Moses stretched out his staff toward heaven, and the Lord sent thunder and hail, and fire came down on the earth. And the Lord rained hail on the land of Egypt; 24 there was hail with fire flashing continually in the midst of it, such heavy hail as had never fallen in all the land of Egypt since it became a nation. 25 The hail struck down everything that was in the open field throughout all the land of Egypt, both human and animal; the hail also struck down all the plants of the field, and shattered every tree in the field. 26 Only in the land of Goshen, where the Israelites were, there was no hail.

27 Then Pharaoh summoned Moses and Aaron, and said to them, “This time I have sinned; the Lord is in the right, and I and my people are in the wrong. 28 Pray to the Lord! Enough of God’s thunder and hail! I will let you go; you need stay no longer.” 29 Moses said to him, “As soon as I have gone out of the city, I will stretch out my hands to the Lord; the thunder will cease, and there will be no more hail, so that you may know that the earth is the Lord’s. 30 But as for you and your officials, I know that you do not yet fear the Lord God.” 31 (Now the flax and the barley were ruined, for the barley was in the ear and the flax was in bud. 32 But the wheat and the spelt were not ruined, for they are late in coming up.) 33 So Moses left Pharaoh, went out of the city, and stretched out his hands to the Lord; then the thunder and the hail ceased, and the rain no longer poured down on the earth. 34 But when Pharaoh saw that the rain and the hail and the thunder had ceased, he sinned once more and hardened his heart, he and his officials. 35 So the heart of Pharaoh was hardened, and he would not let the Israelites go, just as the Lord had spoken through Moses.

The Eighth Plague: Locusts

(Joel 1.2—4)

10 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Go to Pharaoh; for I have hardened his heart and the heart of his officials, in order that I may show these signs of mine among them, 2 and that you may tell your children and grandchildren how I have made fools of the Egyptians and what signs I have done among them—so that you may know that I am the Lord.”

3 So Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh, and said to him, “Thus says the Lord, the God of the Hebrews, ‘How long will you refuse to humble yourself before me? Let my people go, so that they may worship me. 4 For if you refuse to let my people go, tomorrow I will bring locusts into your country. 5 They shall cover the surface of the land, so that no one will be able to see the land. They shall devour the last remnant left you after the hail, and they shall devour every tree of yours that grows in the field. 6 They shall fill your houses, and the houses of all your officials and of all the Egyptians—something that neither your parents nor your grandparents have seen, from the day they came on earth to this day.’ ” Then he turned and went out from Pharaoh.

7 Pharaoh’s officials said to him, “How long shall this fellow be a snare to us? Let the people go, so that they may worship the Lord their God; do you not yet understand that Egypt is ruined?” 8 So Moses and Aaron were brought back to Pharaoh, and he said to them, “Go, worship the Lord your God! But which ones are to go?” 9 Moses said, “We will go with our young and our old; we will go with our sons and daughters and with our flocks and herds, because we have the Lord’s festival to celebrate.” 10 He said to them, “The Lord indeed will be with you, if ever I let your little ones go with you! Plainly, you have some evil purpose in mind. 11 No, never! Your men may go and worship the Lord, for that is what you are asking.” And they were driven out from Pharaoh’s presence.

12 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand over the land of Egypt, so that the locusts may come upon it and eat every plant in the land, all that the hail has left.” 13 So Moses stretched out his staff over the land of Egypt, and the Lord brought an east wind upon the land all that day and all that night; when morning came, the east wind had brought the locusts. 14 The locusts came upon all the land of Egypt and settled on the whole country of Egypt, such a dense swarm of locusts as had never been before, nor ever shall be again. 15 They covered the surface of the whole land, so that the land was black; and they ate all the plants in the land and all the fruit of the trees that the hail had left; nothing green was left, no tree, no plant in the field, in all the land of Egypt. 16 Pharaoh hurriedly summoned Moses and Aaron and said, “I have sinned against the Lord your God, and against you. 17 Do forgive my sin just this once, and pray to the Lord your God that at the least he remove this deadly thing from me.” 18 So he went out from Pharaoh and prayed to the Lord. 19 The Lord changed the wind into a very strong west wind, which lifted the locusts and drove them into the Red Sea; not a single locust was left in all the country of Egypt. 20 But the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he would not let the Israelites go.

The Ninth Plague: Darkness

21 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand toward heaven so that there may be darkness over the land of Egypt, a darkness that can be felt.” 22 So Moses stretched out his hand toward heaven, and there was dense darkness in all the land of Egypt for three days. 23 People could not see one another, and for three days they could not move from where they were; but all the Israelites had light where they lived. 24 Then Pharaoh summoned Moses, and said, “Go, worship the Lord. Only your flocks and your herds shall remain behind. Even your children may go with you.” 25 But Moses said, “You must also let us have sacrifices and burnt offerings to sacrifice to the Lord our God. 26 Our livestock also must go with us; not a hoof shall be left behind, for we must choose some of them for the worship of the Lord our God, and we will not know what to use to worship the Lord until we arrive there.” 27 But the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he was unwilling to let them go. 28 Then Pharaoh said to him, “Get away from me! Take care that you do not see my face again, for on the day you see my face you shall die.” 29 Moses said, “Just as you say! I will never see your face again.”

Warning of the Final Plague

(Ex 3.21—22; 12.35—36)

11 The Lord said to Moses, “I will bring one more plague upon Pharaoh and upon Egypt; afterwards he will let you go from here; indeed, when he lets you go, he will drive you away. 2 Tell the people that every man is to ask his neighbor and every woman is to ask her neighbor for objects of silver and gold.” 3 The Lord gave the people favor in the sight of the Egyptians. Moreover, Moses himself was a man of great importance in the land of Egypt, in the sight of Pharaoh’s officials and in the sight of the people.

4 Moses said, “Thus says the Lord: About midnight I will go out through Egypt. 5 Every firstborn in the land of Egypt shall die, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sits on his throne to the firstborn of the female slave who is behind the handmill, and all the firstborn of the livestock. 6 Then there will be a loud cry throughout the whole land of Egypt, such as has never been or will ever be again. 7 But not a dog shall growl at any of the Israelites—not at people, not at animals—so that you may know that the Lord makes a distinction between Egypt and Israel. 8 Then all these officials of yours shall come down to me, and bow low to me, saying, ‘Leave us, you and all the people who follow you.’ After that I will leave.” And in hot anger he left Pharaoh.

9 The Lord said to Moses, “Pharaoh will not listen to you, in order that my wonders may be multiplied in the land of Egypt.” 10 Moses and Aaron performed all these wonders before Pharaoh; but the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he did not let the people of Israel go out of his land.


The Tenth Plague: Death of the Firstborn

(Ex 11.1—10)

29 At midnight the Lord struck down all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sat on his throne to the firstborn of the prisoner who was in the dungeon, and all the firstborn of the livestock. 30 Pharaoh arose in the night, he and all his officials and all the Egyptians; and there was a loud cry in Egypt, for there was not a house without someone dead. 31 Then he summoned Moses and Aaron in the night, and said, “Rise up, go away from my people, both you and the Israelites! Go, worship the Lord, as you said. 32 Take your flocks and your herds, as you said, and be gone. And bring a blessing on me too!”


Another type of text considers the curses that will come to Israel if they are not faithful to the covenant. The curses come upon the earth.


Leviticus 26 (NRSV)

 You shall make for yourselves no idols and erect no carved images or pillars, and you shall not place figured stones in your land, to worship at them; for I am the Lord your God. 2 You shall keep my sabbaths and reverence my sanctuary: I am the Lord.

3 If you follow my statutes and keep my commandments and observe them faithfully, 4 I will give you your rains in their season, and the land shall yield its produce, and the trees of the field shall yield their fruit. 5 Your threshing shall overtake the vintage, and the vintage shall overtake the sowing; you shall eat your bread to the full, and live securely in your land. 6 And I will grant peace in the land, and you shall lie down, and no one shall make you afraid; I will remove dangerous animals from the land, and no sword shall go through your land. 7 You shall give chase to your enemies, and they shall fall before you by the sword. 8 Five of you shall give chase to a hundred, and a hundred of you shall give chase to ten thousand; your enemies shall fall before you by the sword. 9 I will look with favor upon you and make you fruitful and multiply you; and I will maintain my covenant with you. 10 You shall eat old grain long stored, and you shall have to clear out the old to make way for the new. 11 I will place my dwelling in your midst, and I shall not abhor you. 12 And I will walk among you, and will be your God, and you shall be my people. 13 I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, to be their slaves no more; I have broken the bars of your yoke and made you walk erect.

14 But if you will not obey me, and do not observe all these commandments, 15 if you spurn my statutes, and abhor my ordinances, so that you will not observe all my commandments, and you break my covenant, 16 I in turn will do this to you: I will bring terror on you; consumption and fever that waste the eyes and cause life to pine away. You shall sow your seed in vain, for your enemies shall eat it. 17 I will set my face against you, and you shall be struck down by your enemies; your foes shall rule over you, and you shall flee though no one pursues you. 18 And if in spite of this you will not obey me, I will continue to punish you sevenfold for your sins. 19 I will break your proud glory, and I will make your sky like iron and your earth like copper. 20 Your strength shall be spent to no purpose: your land shall not yield its produce, and the trees of the land shall not yield their fruit.

21 If you continue hostile to me, and will not obey me, I will continue to plague you sevenfold for your sins. 22 I will let loose wild animals against you, and they shall bereave you of your children and destroy your livestock; they shall make you few in number, and your roads shall be deserted.

23 If in spite of these punishments you have not turned back to me, but continue hostile to me, 24 then I too will continue hostile to you: I myself will strike you sevenfold for your sins. 25 I will bring the sword against you, executing vengeance for the covenant; and if you withdraw within your cities, I will send pestilence among you, and you shall be delivered into enemy hands. 26 When I break your staff of bread, ten women shall bake your bread in a single oven, and they shall dole out your bread by weight; and though you eat, you shall not be satisfied.

27 But if, despite this, you disobey me, and continue hostile to me, 28 I will continue hostile to you in fury; I in turn will punish you myself sevenfold for your sins. 29 You shall eat the flesh of your sons, and you shall eat the flesh of your daughters. 30 I will destroy your high places and cut down your incense altars; I will heap your carcasses on the carcasses of your idols. I will abhor you. 31 I will lay your cities waste, will make your sanctuaries desolate, and I will not smell your pleasing odors. 32 I will devastate the land, so that your enemies who come to settle in it shall be appalled at it. 33 And you I will scatter among the nations, and I will unsheathe the sword against you; your land shall be a desolation, and your cities a waste.

34 Then the land shall enjoy its sabbath years as long as it lies desolate, while you are in the land of your enemies; then the land shall rest, and enjoyits sabbath years. 35 As long as it lies desolate, it shall have the rest it did not have on your sabbaths when you were living on it. 36 And as for those of you who survive, I will send faintness into their hearts in the lands of their enemies; the sound of a driven leaf shall put them to flight, and they shall flee as one flees from the sword, and they shall fall though no one pursues. 37 They shall stumble over one another, as if to escape a sword, though no one pursues; and you shall have no power to stand against your enemies. 38 You shall perish among the nations, and the land of your enemies shall devour you. 39 And those of you who survive shall languish in the land of your enemies because of their iniquities; also they shall languish because of the iniquities of their ancestors.

40 But if they confess their iniquity and the iniquity of their ancestors, in that they committed treachery against me and, moreover, that they continued hostile to me— 41 so that I, in turn, continued hostile to them and brought them into the land of their enemies; if then their uncircumcised heart is humbled and they make amends for their iniquity, 42 then will I remember my covenant with Jacob; I will remember also my covenant with Isaac and also my covenant with Abraham, and I will remember the land. 43 For the land shall be deserted by them, and enjoy its sabbath years by lying desolate without them, while they shall make amends for their iniquity, because they dared to spurn my ordinances, and they abhorred my statutes. 44 Yet for all that, when they are in the land of their enemies, I will not spurn them, or abhor them so as to destroy them utterly and break my covenant with them; for I am the Lord their God; 45 but I will remember in their favor the covenant with their ancestors whom I brought out of the land of Egypt in the sight of the nations, to be their God: I am the Lord.

46 These are the statutes and ordinances and laws that the Lord established between himself and the people of Israel on Mount Sinai through Moses.


Deuteronomy 28 (NRSV)

 If you will only obey the Lord your God, by diligently observing all his commandments that I am commanding you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth; 2 all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, if you obey the Lord your God:

3 Blessed shall you be in the city, and blessed shall you be in the field.

4 Blessed shall be the fruit of your womb, the fruit of your ground, and the fruit of your livestock, both the increase of your cattle and the issue of your flock.

5 Blessed shall be your basket and your kneading bowl.

6 Blessed shall you be when you come in, and blessed shall you be when you go out.

7 The Lord will cause your enemies who rise against you to be defeated before you; they shall come out against you one way, and flee before you seven ways. 8 The Lord will command the blessing upon you in your barns, and in all that you undertake; he will bless you in the land that the Lord your God is giving you. 9 The Lord will establish you as his holy people, as he has sworn to you, if you keep the commandments of the Lord your God and walk in his ways. 10 All the peoples of the earth shall see that you are called by the name of the Lord, and they shall be afraid of you. 11 The Lord will make you abound in prosperity, in the fruit of your womb, in the fruit of your livestock, and in the fruit of your ground in the land that the Lord swore to your ancestors to give you. 12 The Lord will open for you his rich storehouse, the heavens, to give the rain of your land in its season and to bless all your undertakings. You will lend to many nations, but you will not borrow. 13 The Lord will make you the head, and not the tail; you shall be only at the top, and not at the bottom—if you obey the commandments of the Lord your God, which I am commanding you today, by diligently observing them, 14 and if you do not turn aside from any of the words that I am commanding you today, either to the right or to the left, following other gods to serve them.

15 But if you will not obey the Lord your God by diligently observing all his commandments and decrees, which I am commanding you today, then all these curses shall come upon you and overtake you:

16 Cursed shall you be in the city, and cursed shall you be in the field.

17 Cursed shall be your basket and your kneading bowl.

18 Cursed shall be the fruit of your womb, the fruit of your ground, the increase of your cattle and the issue of your flock.

19 Cursed shall you be when you come in, and cursed shall you be when you go out.

20 The Lord will send upon you disaster, panic, and frustration in everything you attempt to do, until you are destroyed and perish quickly, on account of the evil of your deeds, because you have forsaken me. 21 The Lord will make the pestilence cling to you until it has consumed you off the land that you are entering to possess. 22 The Lord will afflict you with consumption, fever, inflammation, with fiery heat and drought, and with blight and mildew; they shall pursue you until you perish. 23 The sky over your head shall be bronze, and the earth under you iron. 24 The Lord will change the rain of your land into powder, and only dust shall come down upon you from the sky until you are destroyed.

25 The Lord will cause you to be defeated before your enemies; you shall go out against them one way and flee before them seven ways. You shall become an object of horror to all the kingdoms of the earth. 26 Your corpses shall be food for every bird of the air and animal of the earth, and there shall be no one to frighten them away. 27 The Lord will afflict you with the boils of Egypt, with ulcers, scurvy, and itch, of which you cannot be healed. 28 The Lord will afflict you with madness, blindness, and confusion of mind; 29 you shall grope about at noon as blind people grope in darkness, but you shall be unable to find your way; and you shall be continually abused and robbed, without anyone to help. 30 You shall become engaged to a woman, but another man shall lie with her. You shall build a house, but not live in it. You shall plant a vineyard, but not enjoy its fruit. 31 Your ox shall be butchered before your eyes, but you shall not eat of it. Your donkey shall be stolen in front of you, and shall not be restored to you. Your sheep shall be given to your enemies, without anyone to help you. 32 Your sons and daughters shall be given to another people, while you look on; you will strain your eyes looking for them all day but be powerless to do anything. 33 A people whom you do not know shall eat up the fruit of your ground and of all your labors; you shall be continually abused and crushed, 34 and driven mad by the sight that your eyes shall see. 35 The Lord will strike you on the knees and on the legs with grievous boils of which you cannot be healed, from the sole of your foot to the crown of your head. 36 The Lord will bring you, and the king whom you set over you, to a nation that neither you nor your ancestors have known, where you shall serve other gods, of wood and stone. 37 You shall become an object of horror, a proverb, and a byword among all the peoples where the Lord will lead you.

38 You shall carry much seed into the field but shall gather little in, for the locust shall consume it. 39 You shall plant vineyards and dress them, but you shall neither drink the wine nor gather the grapes, for the worm shall eat them. 40 You shall have olive trees throughout all your territory, but you shall not anoint yourself with the oil, for your olives shall drop off. 41 You shall have sons and daughters, but they shall not remain yours, for they shall go into captivity. 42 All your trees and the fruit of your ground the cicada shall take over. 43 Aliens residing among you shall ascend above you higher and higher, while you shall descend lower and lower. 44 They shall lend to you but you shall not lend to them; they shall be the head and you shall be the tail.

45 All these curses shall come upon you, pursuing and overtaking you until you are destroyed, because you did not obey the Lord your God, by observing the commandments and the decrees that he commanded you. 46 They shall be among you and your descendants as a sign and a portent forever.

47 Because you did not serve the Lord your God joyfully and with gladness of heart for the abundance of everything, 48 therefore you shall serve your enemies whom the Lord will send against you, in hunger and thirst, in nakedness and lack of everything. He will put an iron yoke on your neck until he has destroyed you. 49 The Lord will bring a nation from far away, from the end of the earth, to swoop down on you like an eagle, a nation whose language you do not understand, 50 a grim-faced nation showing no respect to the old or favor to the young. 51 It shall consume the fruit of your livestock and the fruit of your ground until you are destroyed, leaving you neither grain, wine, and oil, nor the increase of your cattle and the issue of your flock, until it has made you perish. 52 It shall besiege you in all your towns until your high and fortified walls, in which you trusted, come down throughout your land; it shall besiege you in all your towns throughout the land that the Lord your God has given you. 53 In the desperate straits to which the enemy siege reduces you, you will eat the fruit of your womb, the flesh of your own sons and daughters whom the Lord your God has given you. 54 Even the most refined and gentle of men among you will begrudge food to his own brother, to the wife whom he embraces, and to the last of his remaining children, 55 giving to none of them any of the flesh of his children whom he is eating, because nothing else remains to him, in the desperate straits to which the enemy siege will reduce you in all your towns. 56 She who is the most refined and gentle among you, so gentle and refined that she does not venture to set the sole of her foot on the ground, will begrudge food to the husband whom she embraces, to her own son, and to her own daughter, 57 begrudging even the afterbirth that comes out from between her thighs, and the children that she bears, because she is eating them in secret for lack of anything else, in the desperate straits to which the enemy siege will reduce you in your towns.

58 If you do not diligently observe all the words of this law that are written in this book, fearing this glorious and awesome name, the Lord your God, 59 then the Lord will overwhelm both you and your offspring with severe and lasting afflictions and grievous and lasting maladies. 60 He will bring back upon you all the diseases of Egypt, of which you were in dread, and they shall cling to you. 61 Every other malady and affliction, even though not recorded in the book of this law, the Lord will inflict on you until you are destroyed. 62 Although once you were as numerous as the stars in heaven, you shall be left few in number, because you did not obey the Lord your God. 63 And just as the Lord took delight in making you prosperous and numerous, so the Lord will take delight in bringing you to ruin and destruction; you shall be plucked off the land that you are entering to possess. 64 The Lord will scatter you among all peoples, from one end of the earth to the other; and there you shall serve other gods, of wood and stone, which neither you nor your ancestors have known. 65 Among those nations you shall find no ease, no resting place for the sole of your foot. There the Lord will give you a trembling heart, failing eyes, and a languishing spirit. 66 Your life shall hang in doubt before you; night and day you shall be in dread, with no assurance of your life. 67 In the morning you shall say, “If only it were evening!” and at evening you shall say, “If only it were morning!”—because of the dread that your heart shall feel and the sights that your eyes shall see. 68 The Lord will bring you back in ships to Egypt, by a route that I promised you would never see again; and there you shall offer yourselves for sale to your enemies as male and female slaves, but there will be no buyer.


Another text considers the beasts of Daniel. This reflection begins in Chapter 13 and continues to the end of the book. This text largely updates this vision contained in Daniel.


Daniel 7 (NRSV)

 In the first year of King Belshazzar of Babylon, Daniel had a dream and visions of his head as he lay in bed. Then he wrote down the dream: 2 I, Daniel, saw in my vision by night the four winds of heaven stirring up the great sea, 3 and four great beasts came up out of the sea, different from one another. 4 The first was like a lion and had eagles’ wings. Then, as I watched, its wings were plucked off, and it was lifted up from the ground and made to stand on two feet like a human being; and a human mind was given to it. 5 Another beast appeared, a second one, that looked like a bear. It was raised up on one side, had three tusks in its mouth among its teeth and was told, “Arise, devour many bodies!” 6 After this, as I watched, another appeared, like a leopard. The beast had four wings of a bird on its back and four heads; and dominion was given to it. 7 After this I saw in the visions by night a fourth beast, terrifying and dreadful and exceedingly strong. It had great iron teeth and was devouring, breaking in pieces, and stamping what was left with its feet. It was different from all the beasts that preceded it, and it had ten horns. 8 I was considering the horns, when another horn appeared, a little one coming up among them; to make room for it, three of the earlier horns were plucked up by the roots. There were eyes like human eyes in this horn, and a mouth speaking arrogantly.

9 As I watched,

thrones were set in place,

and an Ancient One took his throne,

his clothing was white as snow,

and the hair of his head like pure wool;

his throne was fiery flames,

and its wheels were burning fire.

10 A stream of fire issued

and flowed out from his presence.

A thousand thousands served him,

and ten thousand times ten thousand stood attending him.

The court sat in judgment,

and the books were opened.

11 I watched then because of the noise of the arrogant words that the horn was speaking. And as I watched, the beast was put to death, and its body destroyed and given over to be burned with fire. 12 As for the rest of the beasts, their dominion was taken away, but their lives were prolonged for a season and a time. 13 As I watched in the night visions,

I saw one like a human being

coming with the clouds of heaven.

And he came to the Ancient One

and was presented before him.

14 To him was given dominion

and glory and kingship,

that all peoples, nations, and languages

should serve him.

His dominion is an everlasting dominion

that shall not pass away,

and his kingship is one

that shall never be destroyed.

15 As for me, Daniel, my spirit was troubled within me, and the visions of my head terrified me. 16 I approached one of the attendants to ask him the truth concerning all this. So he said that he would disclose to me the interpretation of the matter: 17 “As for these four great beasts, four kings shall arise out of the earth. 18 But the holy ones of the Most High shall receive the kingdom and possess the kingdom forever—forever and ever.”

19 Then I desired to know the truth concerning the fourth beast, which was different from all the rest, exceedingly terrifying, with its teeth of iron and claws of bronze, and which devoured and broke in pieces, and stamped what was left with its feet; 20 and concerning the ten horns that were on its head, and concerning the other horn, which came up and to make room for which three of them fell out—the horn that had eyes and a mouth that spoke arrogantly, and that seemed greater than the others. 21 As I looked, this horn made war with the holy ones and was prevailing over them, 22 until the Ancient One came; then judgment was given for the holy ones of the Most High, and the time arrived when the holy ones gained possession of the kingdom.

23 This is what he said: “As for the fourth beast,

there shall be a fourth kingdom on earth

that shall be different from all the other kingdoms;

it shall devour the whole earth,

and trample it down, and break it to pieces.

24 As for the ten horns,

out of this kingdom ten kings shall arise,

and another shall arise after them.

This one shall be different from the former ones,

and shall put down three kings.

25 He shall speak words against the Most High,

shall wear out the holy ones of the Most High,

and shall attempt to change the sacred seasons and the law;

and they shall be given into his power

for a time, two times, and half a time.

26 Then the court shall sit in judgment,

and his dominion shall be taken away,

to be consumed and totally destroyed.

27 The kingship and dominion

and the greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven

shall be given to the people of the holy ones of the Most High;

their kingdom shall be an everlasting kingdom,

and all dominions shall serve and obey them.”

28 Here the account ends. As for me, Daniel, my thoughts greatly terrified me, and my face turned pale; but I kept the matter in my mind.


The final set of Old Texts considers the final war and the hope of a new city. In Ezekiel, the final battle is with God and Magog, followed by a description of the new city of Jerusalem. In Zechariah, we have a final battle followed by a new city.


Ezekiel 38-39 (NRSV)

 The word of the Lord came to me: 2 Mortal, set your face toward Gog, of the land of Magog, the chief prince of Meshech and Tubal. Prophesy against him 3 and say: Thus says the Lord God: I am against you, O Gog, chief prince of Meshech and Tubal; 4 I will turn you around and put hooks into your jaws, and I will lead you out with all your army, horses and horsemen, all of them clothed in full armor, a great company, all of them with shield and buckler, wielding swords. 5 Persia, Ethiopia, and Put are with them, all of them with buckler and helmet; 6 Gomer and all its troops; Beth-togarmah from the remotest parts of the north with all its troops—many peoples are with you.

7 Be ready and keep ready, you and all the companies that are assembled around you, and hold yourselves in reserve for them. 8 After many days you shall be mustered; in the latter years you shall go against a land restored from war, a land where people were gathered from many nations on the mountains of Israel, which had long lain waste; its people were brought out from the nations and now are living in safety, all of them. 9 You shall advance, coming on like a storm; you shall be like a cloud covering the land, you and all your troops, and many peoples with you.

10 Thus says the Lord God: On that day thoughts will come into your mind, and you will devise an evil scheme. 11 You will say, “I will go up against the land of unwalled villages; I will fall upon the quiet people who live in safety, all of them living without walls, and having no bars or gates”; 12 to seize spoil and carry off plunder; to assail the waste places that are now inhabited, and the people who were gathered from the nations, who are acquiring cattle and goods, who live at the center of the earth. 13 Sheba and Dedan and the merchants of Tarshish and all its young warriors will say to you, “Have you come to seize spoil? Have you assembled your horde to carry off plunder, to carry away silver and gold, to take away cattle and goods, to seize a great amount of booty?”

14 Therefore, mortal, prophesy, and say to Gog: Thus says the Lord God: On that day when my people Israel are living securely, you will rouse yourself 15 and come from your place out of the remotest parts of the north, you and many peoples with you, all of them riding on horses, a great horde, a mighty army; 16 you will come up against my people Israel, like a cloud covering the earth. In the latter days I will bring you against my land, so that the nations may know me, when through you, O Gog, I display my holiness before their eyes.

17 Thus says the Lord God: Are you he of whom I spoke in former days by my servants the prophets of Israel, who in those days prophesied for years that I would bring you against them? 18 On that day, when Gog comes against the land of Israel, says the Lord God, my wrath shall be aroused. 19 For in my jealousy and in my blazing wrath I declare: On that day there shall be a great shaking in the land of Israel; 20 the fish of the sea, and the birds of the air, and the animals of the field, and all creeping things that creep on the ground, and all human beings that are on the face of the earth, shall quake at my presence, and the mountains shall be thrown down, and the cliffs shall fall, and every wall shall tumble to the ground. 21 I will summon the sword against Gog inall my mountains, says the Lord God; the swords of all will be against their comrades. 22 With pestilence and bloodshed I will enter into judgment with him; and I will pour down torrential rains and hailstones, fire and sulfur, upon him and his troops and the many peoples that are with him. 23 So I will display my greatness and my holiness and make myself known in the eyes of many nations. Then they shall know that I am the Lord.


 And you, mortal, prophesy against Gog, and say: Thus says the Lord God: I am against you, O Gog, chief prince of Meshech and Tubal! 2 I will turn you around and drive you forward, and bring you up from the remotest parts of the north, and lead you against the mountains of Israel. 3 I will strike your bow from your left hand, and will make your arrows drop out of your right hand. 4 You shall fall upon the mountains of Israel, you and all your troops and the peoples that are with you; I will give you to birds of prey of every kind and to the wild animals to be devoured. 5 You shall fall in the open field; for I have spoken, says the Lord God. 6 I will send fire on Magog and on those who live securely in the coastlands; and they shall know that I am the Lord.

7 My holy name I will make known among my people Israel; and I will not let my holy name be profaned any more; and the nations shall know that I am the Lord, the Holy One in Israel. 8 It has come! It has happened, says the Lord God. This is the day of which I have spoken.

9 Then those who live in the towns of Israel will go out and make fires of the weapons and burn them—bucklers and shields, bows and arrows, handpikes and spears—and they will make fires of them for seven years. 10 They will not need to take wood out of the field or cut down any trees in the forests, for they will make their fires of the weapons; they will despoil those who despoiled them, and plunder those who plundered them, says the Lord God.

11 On that day I will give to Gog a place for burial in Israel, the Valley of the Travelers east of the sea; it shall block the path of the travelers, for there Gog and all his horde will be buried; it shall be called the Valley of Hamon-gog. 12 Seven months the house of Israel shall spend burying them, in order to cleanse the land. 13 All the people of the land shall bury them; and it will bring them honor on the day that I show my glory, says the Lord God. 14 They will set apart men to pass through the land regularly and bury any invaders who remain on the face of the land, so as to cleanse it; for seven months they shall make their search. 15 As the searchers pass through the land, anyone who sees a human bone shall set up a sign by it, until the buriers have buried it in the Valley of Hamon-gog. 16 (A city Hamonah is there also.) Thus they shall cleanse the land.

17 As for you, mortal, thus says the Lord God: Speak to the birds of every kind and to all the wild animals: Assemble and come, gather from all around to the sacrificial feast that I am preparing for you, a great sacrificial feast on the mountains of Israel, and you shall eat flesh and drink blood. 18 You shall eat the flesh of the mighty, and drink the blood of the princes of the earth—of rams, of lambs, and of goats, of bulls, all of them fatlings of Bashan. 19 You shall eat fat until you are filled, and drink blood until you are drunk, at the sacrificial feast that I am preparing for you. 20 And you shall be filled at my table with horses and charioteers, with warriors and all kinds of soldiers, says the Lord God.

21 I will display my glory among the nations; and all the nations shall see my judgment that I have executed, and my hand that I have laid on them. 22 The house of Israel shall know that I am the Lord their God, from that day forward. 23 And the nations shall know that the house of Israel went into captivity for their iniquity, because they dealt treacherously with me. So I hid my face from them and gave them into the hand of their adversaries, and they all fell by the sword. 24 I dealt with them according to their uncleanness and their transgressions, and hid my face from them.

25 Therefore thus says the Lord God: Now I will restore the fortunes of Jacob, and have mercy on the whole house of Israel; and I will be jealous for my holy name. 26 They shall forget their shame, and all the treachery they have practiced against me, when they live securely in their land with no one to make them afraid, 27 when I have brought them back from the peoples and gathered them from their enemies’ lands, and through them have displayed my holiness in the sight of many nations. 28 Then they shall know that I am the Lord their God because I sent them into exile among the nations, and then gathered them into their own land. I will leave none of them behind; 29 and I will never again hide my face from them, when I pour out my spirit upon the house of Israel, says the Lord God.


Zechariah 12-14 (NRSV)

12      An Oracle.

The word of the Lord concerning Israel: Thus says the Lord, who stretched out the heavens and founded the earth and formed the human spirit within: 2 See, I am about to make Jerusalem a cup of reeling for all the surrounding peoples; it will be against Judah also in the siege against Jerusalem. 3 On that day I will make Jerusalem a heavy stone for all the peoples; all who lift it shall grievously hurt themselves. And all the nations of the earth shall come together against it. 4 On that day, says the Lord, I will strike every horse with panic, and its rider with madness. But on the house of Judah I will keep a watchful eye, when I strike every horse of the peoples with blindness. 5 Then the clans of Judah shall say to themselves, “The inhabitants of Jerusalem have strength through the Lord of hosts, their God.”

6 On that day I will make the clans of Judah like a blazing pot on a pile of wood, like a flaming torch among sheaves; and they shall devour to the right and to the left all the surrounding peoples, while Jerusalem shall again be inhabited in its place, in Jerusalem.

7 And the Lord will give victory to the tents of Judah first, that the glory of the house of David and the glory of the inhabitants of Jerusalem may not be exalted over that of Judah. 8 On that day the Lord will shield the inhabitants of Jerusalem so that the feeblest among them on that day shall be like David, and the house of David shall be like God, like the angel of the Lord, at their head. 9 And on that day I will seek to destroy all the nations that come against Jerusalem.

10 And I will pour out a spirit of compassion and supplication on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that, when they look on the one whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a firstborn. 11 On that day the mourning in Jerusalem will be as great as the mourning for Hadad-rimmon in the plain of Megiddo. 12 The land shall mourn, each family by itself; the family of the house of David by itself, and their wives by themselves; the family of the house of Nathan by itself, and their wives by themselves; 13 the family of the house of Levi by itself, and their wives by themselves; the family of the Shimeites by itself, and their wives by themselves; 14 and all the families that are left, each by itself, and their wives by themselves.

13 On that day a fountain shall be opened for the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to cleanse them from sin and impurity.

2 On that day, says the Lord of hosts, I will cut off the names of the idols from the land, so that they shall be remembered no more; and also I will remove from the land the prophets and the unclean spirit. 3 And if any prophets appear again, their fathers and mothers who bore them will say to them, “You shall not live, for you speak lies in the name of the Lord”; and their fathers and their mothers who bore them shall pierce them through when they prophesy. 4 On that day the prophets will be ashamed, every one, of their visions when they prophesy; they will not put on a hairy mantle in order to deceive, 5 but each of them will say, “I am no prophet, I am a tiller of the soil; for the land has been my possession since my youth.” 6 And if anyone asks them, “What are these wounds on your chest?” the answer will be “The wounds I received in the house of my friends.”

7 “Awake, O sword, against my shepherd,

          against the man who is my associate,”

        says the Lord of hosts.

Strike the shepherd, that the sheep may be scattered;

I will turn my hand against the little ones.

8 In the whole land, says the Lord,

two-thirds shall be cut off and perish,

and one-third shall be left alive.

9 And I will put this third into the fire,

refine them as one refines silver,

and test them as gold is tested.

They will call on my name,

and I will answer them.

I will say, “They are my people”;

and they will say, “The Lord is our God.”

14 See, a day is coming for the Lord, when the plunder taken from you will be divided in your midst. 2 For I will gather all the nations against Jerusalem to battle, and the city shall be taken and the houses looted and the women raped; half the city shall go into exile, but the rest of the people shall not be cut off from the city. 3 Then the Lord will go forth and fight against those nations as when he fights on a day of battle. 4 On that day his feet shall stand on the Mount of Olives, which lies before Jerusalem on the east; and the Mount of Olives shall be split in two from east to west by a very wide valley; so that one half of the Mount shall withdraw northward, and the other half southward. 5 And you shall flee by the valley of the Lord’s mountain, for the valley between the mountains shall reach to Azal;and you shall flee as you fled from the earthquake in the days of King Uzziah of Judah. Then the Lord my God will come, and all the holy ones with him.

6 On that day there shall not be either cold or frost. 7 And there shall be continuous day (it is known to the Lord), not day and not night, for at evening time there shall be light.

8 On that day living waters shall flow out from Jerusalem, half of them to the eastern sea and half of them to the western sea; it shall continue in summer as in winter.

9 And the Lord will become king over all the earth; on that day the Lord will be one and his name one.

10 The whole land shall be turned into a plain from Geba to Rimmon south of Jerusalem. But Jerusalem shall remain aloft on its site from the Gate of Benjamin to the place of the former gate, to the Corner Gate, and from the Tower of Hananel to the king’s wine presses. 11 And it shall be inhabited, for never again shall it be doomed to destruction; Jerusalem shall abide in security.

12 This shall be the plague with which the Lord will strike all the peoples that wage war against Jerusalem: their flesh shall rot while they are still on their feet; their eyes shall rot in their sockets, and their tongues shall rot in their mouths. 13 On that day a great panic from the Lord shall fall on them, so that each will seize the hand of a neighbor, and the hand of the one will be raised against the hand of the other; 14 even Judah will fight at Jerusalem. And the wealth of all the surrounding nations shall be collected—gold, silver, and garments in great abundance. 15 And a plague like this plague shall fall on the horses, the mules, the camels, the donkeys, and whatever animals may be in those camps.

16 Then all who survive of the nations that have come against Jerusalem shall go up year after year to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, and to keep the festival of booths. 17 If any of the families of the earth do not go up to Jerusalem to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, there will be no rain upon them. 18 And if the family of Egypt do not go up and present themselves, then on them shall come the plague that the Lord inflicts on the nations that do not go up to keep the festival of booths. 19 Such shall be the punishment of Egypt and the punishment of all the nations that do not go up to keep the festival of booths.

20 On that day there shall be inscribed on the bells of the horses, “Holy to the Lord.” And the cooking pots in the house of the Lord shall be as holy as the bowls in front of the altar; 21 and every cooking pot in Jerusalem and Judah shall be sacred to the Lord of hosts, so that all who sacrifice may come and use them to boil the flesh of the sacrifice. And there shall no longer be traders in the house of the Lord of hosts on that day.


            Another key we need to interpret the symbolism in the Book of Revelation is in its use of numbers.  The number seven refers to being complete or whole.  As such, it is neither good nor evil, but symbolizes totality of anything. Some other numbers derive their significance from their connection to seven.  The number six is one short of completion, and thus in symbols, looks like perfection, but it is not.  Three and one half is simply half of whatever the total or whole would refer to.  To go further, the number three seems to be based upon the Christian concept of the Trinity.  The number twelve is connected to the historical people of God, whether the tribes of Israel or the disciples.  Another number deriving its significance from it is one hundred forty four thousand, the square root of twelve. With this information in hand, it is possible to interpret the primary images contained in the book.

            The seven letters that are contained in chapters 1-3 make it clear that the author intends the book for the whole church.  Indeed, the author intends the message to be a whole or complete message to the whole church.  He writes to churches that, in general, the Roman Empire persecutes. The threats are internal and external. The theme of the letters is simple: Do not allow yourselves to be enticed by immorality or false teachings.  Remain faithful to God, no matter what happens.  This is consistent with the description of John as having borne witness to the Word of God. The author praises this faithfulness further in 7:14 as those who went through tribulation are placed at the throne of God.  To summarize this aspect of the book, 13:10 says, "Here is a call for the endurance and faith of the saints." In 14:12, "Here is a call for the endurance of the saints, those who keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus.” The churches are to prepare for martyrdom. In the preliminary vision of 1:9-20, Jesus is among the churches. The seven gold lamp-stands is a menorah. Further, the organization of the letters is similar: the qualities of Jesus, the praise of the church, censure of the church, and the promise to the church. With the church at Ephesus, the threat of removal of its candle is the threat of expulsion. The church of Smyrna deals with Jews devoted to syncretistic worship. In Pergamum, emperor worship led to the death of Antipas, a faithful witness to Christ. However, some persons, referred to Balaam and the Nicolaitans, preferred some compromise with the emperor cult. If they remain faithful, they will receive the hidden manna, which rabbinic legend said God held in reserve until the end, and the white stone that will give them entry into the kingdom. Their new name relates to Christ. In Thyatira, they tolerate Jezebel, a sexual image that refers to idolatry. She supports false prophets, and likely from the Nicolaitan sect. The faithful will receive the Morning Star, or the Messiah. In Sardis, the victorious will wear the white robes of Roman victory. The names written in the Book of Life refers to citizenship. He accuses them of being dead. Yet, they have the opportunity to come alive. In Philadelphia, the open door (3:8) refers to missionary work. In Laodicea, we have a wealthy city that rejected aid from other cities after an earthquake. The gold, clothes, and ointment mentioned in 3:15 were products for which others knew the city. 3:20 refers to the meal of the Lord’s Supper in which Jesus will be present if they simply open the door.

            The vision of the throne of God and of the Lamb in Chapters 4-5 is a challenging one.  Chapter 4 has the theme of the majesty of God. The 24 elders represent the unity of true of Israel with the church.  The reference in v. 3 to “rainbow” is a reference to the covenant. In v. 6, the sea usually reference chaos or evil, yet, the sea is calm before the throne of God. The four living creatures refers to the cosmos, noble, strong, wise, and swift. Verse 8 became the Trisagion prayer of the Orthodox Church, based upon Isaiah 6:3:


Revelation 4:8 (NRSV)

8 “Holy, holy, holy,

the Lord God the Almighty,

who was and is and is to come.”


Note the Christology of this segment. 4:8 is a song sung to the Father, 4:11 is also a song to the majesty of God, where God is worthy of praise.


Revelation 4:11 (NRSV)

11 “You are worthy, our Lord and God,

to receive glory and honor and power,

for you created all things,

and by your will they existed and were created.”


9-10 is sung to Christ, and 5:13-14 is sung to the Father and to Christ, signifying their unity. Chapter 5 has the theme of the Lamb being worthy of worship. Seven horns suggest perfect strength and seven eyes suggest perfect knowledge. A scroll with seven seals appears. The scroll refers to the plan of God. The seals signify the legality of the plan. The living creatures wonder if anyone is worthy to break the seals. Yet, one of the elders describes the one worthy as the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, who has already triumphed. What appears is a martyred Lamb. As the Lamb takes the scroll from the Father, the 24 elders sing a new song:


Revelation 5:9-10 (NRSV)

9 “You are worthy to take the scroll

and to open its seals,

for you were slaughtered and by your blood you ransomed for God

saints from every tribe and language and people and nation;

10 you have made them to be a kingdom and priests serving our God,

and they will reign on earth.”


This song refers to the Gentiles who believe in the Lamb. After that, an immense number of persons sing another song:


Revelation 5:12 (NRSV)

12 “Worthy is the Lamb that was slaughtered

to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might

and honor and glory and blessing!”


Note here the seven adjectives. Everything alive in creation then sings another song.


Revelation 5:13 (NRSV)

13 “To the one seated on the throne and to the Lamb

be blessing and honor and glory and might

forever and ever!”


            The seven seals in chapters 6-7, seven trumpets in 8-11, and the seven bowls in 15-16 refer to the whole or complete judgment of God upon sin and evil in the world.  In doing so, it utilizes several Old Testament texts. One is the Holiness code of Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28, for which see the beginning of this essay. These texts in Revelation also have a close connection with the plagues of Egypt in Exodus 7:8-11:10, and with Deuteronomy 28:60-61.  All of this would make sense to the Jewish Christian. When wanting to imagine the end of time, the author would naturally go back to what is known as a dramatic act of God in the past.  For the Jewish people, this could only be the deliverance from Egypt.

            Chapter 6 has the theme of wrath. The background for this depiction of the wrath of God may come from these texts.


Ezekiel 5:17 (NRSV)

17 I will send famine and wild animals against you, and they will rob you of your children; pestilence and bloodshed shall pass through you; and I will bring the sword upon you. I, the Lord, have spoken.

Ezekiel 14:13-21 (NRSV)

13 Mortal, when a land sins against me by acting faithlessly, and I stretch out my hand against it, and break its staff of bread and send famine upon it, and cut off from it human beings and animals, 14 even if Noah, Daniel, and Job, these three, were in it, they would save only their own lives by their righteousness, says the Lord God. 15 If I send wild animals through the land to ravage it, so that it is made desolate, and no one may pass through because of the animals; 16 even if these three men were in it, as I live, says the Lord God, they would save neither sons nor daughters; they alone would be saved, but the land would be desolate. 17 Or if I bring a sword upon that land and say, “Let a sword pass through the land,” and I cut off human beings and animals from it; 18 though these three men were in it, as I live, says the Lord God, they would save neither sons nor daughters, but they alone would be saved. 19 Or if I send a pestilence into that land, and pour out my wrath upon it with blood, to cut off humans and animals from it; 20 even if Noah, Daniel, and Job were in it, as I live, says the Lord God, they would save neither son nor daughter; they would save only their own lives by their righteousness.

21 For thus says the Lord God: How much more when I send upon Jerusalem my four deadly acts of judgment, sword, famine, wild animals, and pestilence, to cut off humans and animals from it!


Habakkuk 3:4-15 (NRSV)

4 The brightness was like the sun;

rays came forth from his hand,

where his power lay hidden.

5 Before him went pestilence,

and plague followed close behind.

6 He stopped and shook the earth;

he looked and made the nations tremble.

The eternal mountains were shattered;

along his ancient pathways

the everlasting hills sank low.

7 I saw the tents of Cushan under affliction;

the tent-curtains of the land of Midian trembled.

8 Was your wrath against the rivers, O Lord?

Or your anger against the rivers,

or your rage against the sea,

when you drove your horses,

your chariots to victory?

9 You brandished your naked bow,

sated were the arrows at your command.      Selah

You split the earth with rivers.

10 The mountains saw you, and writhed;

a torrent of water swept by;

the deep gave forth its voice.

The sun raised high its hands;

11 the moon stood still in its exalted place,

at the light of your arrows speeding by,

at the gleam of your flashing spear.

12 In fury you trod the earth,

in anger you trampled nations.

13 You came forth to save your people,

to save your anointed.

You crushed the head of the wicked house,

laying it bare from foundation to roof.       Selah

14 You pierced with their own arrows the head of his warriors,

who came like a whirlwind to scatter us,

gloating as if ready to devour the poor who were in hiding.

15 You trampled the sea with your horses,

churning the mighty waters.


With the breaking of the first seal, the rider on a white horse, holding a bow and given a crown of victory suggests victory in war. With the breaking of the second seal, a rider on a red horse is to take peace from the earth so that people kill each other. The presence of the huge sword may suggest civil service as the extension of the political arm of government. Ezekiel may provide the background of this image.


Ezekiel 21:14-16 (NRSV)

14 And you, mortal, prophesy;

strike hand to hand.

Let the sword fall twice, thrice;

it is a sword for killing.

A sword for great slaughter—

it surrounds them;

15 therefore hearts melt

and many stumble.

At all their gates I have set

the point of the sword.

Ah! It is made for flashing,

it is polished for slaughter.

16 Attack to the right!

Engage to the left!

—wherever your edge is directed.


With the breaking of the third seal a black horse appears. The scales suggest death. The reference to a day’s wages for small amounts of food suggests famine. Ezekiel may provide the background for this image.


Ezekiel 4:16 (NRSV)

16 Then he said to me, Mortal, I am going to break the staff of bread in Jerusalem; they shall eat bread by weight and with fearfulness; and they shall drink water by measure and in dismay.


With the breaking of the fourth seal, a horse appears one like a corpse, called Death, followed by Hades. This image refers to both to physical death and spiritual death. The fact that they have power over one-fourth of the earth is an act of mercy. Ezekiel may provide a background for this image.


Ezekiel 14:21 (NRSV)

21 For thus says the Lord God: How much more when I send upon Jerusalem my four deadly acts of judgment, sword, famine, wild animals, and pestilence, to cut off humans and animals from it!


With the breaking of the fifth seal, we have martyred saints who desire judgment for their deaths. Someone in heaven tells them to have patience, for the roll of saints will need to find completion before judgment upon earth comes. This suggest more martyrs will come before the end. With the sixth seal, various physical phenomena occur to a point where all social classes come together in fear of what has happened. They desire protection.


Revelation 6:16-17 (NRSV)

16 … “Fall on us and hide us from the face of the one seated on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb; 17 for the great day of their wrath has come, and who is able to stand?”


            Chapter 7 is an interlude. It responds to the question of 6:17, who can stand on the day of wrath? First, four angels hold back the winds of judgment, an image that may be from Zechariah.


Zechariah 6:5 (NRSV)

5 The angel answered me, “These are the four winds of heaven going out, after presenting themselves before the Lord of all the earth.


The answer to the question is those with the seal upon their foreheads, 144,000 of them, will be able stand in the day of wrath. In fact, the angels hold back judgment until an angel can place this seal upon their foreheads. This seal is similar to the blood placed on the doorposts of Hebrews so that the angel of death would pass over their homes and kill the first born of Egyptian homes, as recorded in Exodus 12:7-14. The mention of the 144,000 in chapter 14 refers to Christian martyrs, or possibly the remnant of Israel, and possibly Jewish Christians.  They first appear in 7:4. 9:4 they are protected from the power of the locusts.  In 14:3-5 they are with the Lamb singing a song that only they know.  They are identified as not defiling themselves with women, not lying, and blameless.  They follow the Lamb and are the first fruits for God.  This may identify them as male Jews who follow Christ.  They are given special treatment in that they are with God before others will be.  However, no reader should stress this special treatment.  After all, the book does not mention them at all when the kingdom of God is established at the end of the book. More specifically, when they are first mentioned in chapter 7, they receive the seal, but immediately they merge into people from every nation on earth, which is beyond number. Though they will be in for special treatment, there is no reason to think they will have a special place at the end. They come from every culture. This large number of people shouts: “Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb.” Then the angels, the 24 elders, the four living creatures, the 144,000, and the large number of people, all join singing a seven-fold worship of God:


            Revelation 7:12 (NRSV)

12“Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom

and thanksgiving and honor

and power and might

be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”


This large number of people have been through “the great ordeal,” or martyrdom. We find an image of their life drawn from the exodus of the Hebrews from Egypt.


Revelation 7:15-17 (NRSV)

15 For this reason they are before the throne of God,

and worship him day and night within his temple,

and the one who is seated on the throne will shelter them.

16 They will hunger no more, and thirst no more;

the sun will not strike them,

nor any scorching heat;

17 for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd,

and he will guide them to springs of the water of life,

and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”


We also find background for this image from Isaiah.


Isaiah 49:10 (NRSV)

10 they shall not hunger or thirst,

neither scorching wind nor sun shall strike them down,

for he who has pity on them will lead them,

and by springs of water will guide them.


With the breaking of the seventh seal in 8:1, we have silence for half an hour. Often, silence precedes and proclaims the coming of the Lord.


Habakkuk 2:20 (NRSV)

20 But the Lord is in his holy temple;

let all the earth keep silence before him!


Zephaniah 1:7 (NRSV)

7 Be silent before the Lord God!

For the day of the Lord is at hand;

the Lord has prepared a sacrifice,

he has consecrated his guests.


Zechariah 2:13 (NRSV)

13 Be silent, all people, before the Lord; for he has roused himself from his holy dwelling.


            The seven trumpets begin in chapter 8. Their introduction is in 8:2-5. It represents a reversal in four areas. The angel of presence who has the censer normally dispenses mercy. Today, the censer dispenses wrath. Incense symbolizes the prayers of the people of God, but today it will bring wrath. The worship in the temple included trumpets, but now they announce war. The liturgy around the altar focuses upon life. Today, it will bring death. When the angel takes the prayers of the people, puts them in the censer, and flings them to the earth, the earth shakes, along with thunder and lightening.

            The first trumpet, with the reference to one-third of the earth experiencing destruction, suggests partial destruction of the earth, a limit to the destructive forces unleashed upon the earth. The image is that of a new exodus, only this time the church is the one needing liberation from a new Egypt. The first trumpet brings hail and fire that partially destroys trees and grass. We can see the parallel with the seventh plague.


Exodus 9:24 (NRSV)

24 there was hail with fire flashing continually in the midst of it, such heavy hail as had never fallen in all the land of Egypt since it became a nation.


The second trumpet brings a volcano hurled into the sea, with the sea turning to blood, partially killing sea animals and destroying ships. We see a parallel with the first plague.


Exodus 7:20 (NRSV)

20 Moses and Aaron did just as the Lord commanded. In the sight of Pharaoh and of his officials he lifted up the staff and struck the water in the river, and all the water in the river was turned into blood,


The third trumpet brings a meteor to the earth that destroys much of the water. The name of the star was Wormwood, or something that brings bitterness to water of the earth. This effect was similar to the first plague.


Exodus 7:21 (NRSV)

21 and the fish in the river died. The river stank so that the Egyptians could not drink its water, and there was blood throughout the whole land of Egypt.


The fourth trumpet brings darkness to the earth, eliminating light from sun, moon, and stars. We find this similar to the ninth plague against Egypt.


Exodus 10:21-23 (NRSV)

21 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand toward heaven so that there may be darkness over the land of Egypt, a darkness that can be felt.” 22 So Moses stretched out his hand toward heaven, and there was dense darkness in all the land of Egypt for three days. 23 People could not see one another, and for three days they could not move from where they were; but all the Israelites had light where they lived.


The author hears an eagle shout, announcing the next three trumpets in the following way.


Revelation 8:13 (NRSV)

13 “Woe, woe, woe to the inhabitants of the earth, at the blasts of the other trumpets that the three angels are about to blow!”


The reference to the eagle also comes from exodus period of Israel’s history.


Exodus 19:4 (NRSV)

4 You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself.


In 9:1-12, the fifth trumpet is the first “woe” announced by the eagle. It refers to a messenger from the Abyss. A star falls from heaven to the earth. In v. 11, this star or angle has the name Abaddon in Hebrew and in Greek Apollyon. One might also connect this reference to a saying of Jesus.


Luke 10:18 (NRSV)

18 He said to them, “I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning.


The angel unlocks the Abyss and smoke arises like a furnace, an image reminiscent of exodus again.


Exodus 19:18 (NRSV)

18 Now Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke, because the Lord had descended upon it in fire; the smoke went up like the smoke of a kiln, while the whole mountain shook violently.


Out of the smoke came locusts with the power of scorpions. Joel appears to provide the background for this image.


Joel 1-2 (NRSV)

2 Hear this, O elders,

give ear, all inhabitants of the land!

Has such a thing happened in your days,

or in the days of your ancestors?

3 Tell your children of it,

and let your children tell their children,

and their children another generation.

4 What the cutting locust left,

the swarming locust has eaten.

What the swarming locust left,

the hopping locust has eaten,

and what the hopping locust left,

the destroying locust has eaten.

5 Wake up, you drunkards, and weep;

and wail, all you wine-drinkers,

over the sweet wine,

for it is cut off from your mouth.

6 For a nation has invaded my land,

powerful and innumerable;

its teeth are lions’ teeth,

and it has the fangs of a lioness.

7 It has laid waste my vines,

and splintered my fig trees;

it has stripped off their bark and thrown it down;

their branches have turned white.

8 Lament like a virgin dressed in sackcloth

for the husband of her youth.

9 The grain offering and the drink offering are cut off

from the house of the Lord.

The priests mourn,

the ministers of the Lord.

10 The fields are devastated,

the ground mourns;

for the grain is destroyed,

the wine dries up,

the oil fails.

11 Be dismayed, you farmers,

wail, you vinedressers,

over the wheat and the barley;

for the crops of the field are ruined.

12 The vine withers,

the fig tree droops.

Pomegranate, palm, and apple—

all the trees of the field are dried up;

surely, joy withers away

among the people.

A Call to Repentance and Prayer

13 Put on sackcloth and lament, you priests;

wail, you ministers of the altar.

Come, pass the night in sackcloth,

you ministers of my God!

Grain offering and drink offering

are withheld from the house of your God.

14 Sanctify a fast,

call a solemn assembly.

Gather the elders

and all the inhabitants of the land

to the house of the Lord your God,

and cry out to the Lord.

15 Alas for the day!

For the day of the Lord is near,

and as destruction from the Almighty it comes.

16 Is not the food cut off

before our eyes,

joy and gladness

from the house of our God?

17 The seed shrivels under the clods,

the storehouses are desolate;

the granaries are ruined

because the grain has failed.

18 How the animals groan!

The herds of cattle wander about

because there is no pasture for them;

even the flocks of sheep are dazed.

19 To you, O Lord, I cry.

For fire has devoured

the pastures of the wilderness,

and flames have burned

all the trees of the field.

20 Even the wild animals cry to you

because the watercourses are dried up,

and fire has devoured

the pastures of the wilderness.

2 Blow the trumpet in Zion;

sound the alarm on my holy mountain!

Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble,

for the day of the Lord is coming, it is near—

2 a day of darkness and gloom,

a day of clouds and thick darkness!

Like blackness spread upon the mountains

a great and powerful army comes;

their like has never been from of old,

nor will be again after them

in ages to come.

3 Fire devours in front of them,

and behind them a flame burns.

Before them the land is like the garden of Eden,

but after them a desolate wilderness,

and nothing escapes them.

4 They have the appearance of horses,

and like war-horses they charge.

5 As with the rumbling of chariots,

they leap on the tops of the mountains,

like the crackling of a flame of fire

devouring the stubble,

like a powerful army

drawn up for battle.

6 Before them peoples are in anguish,

all faces grow pale.

7 Like warriors they charge,

like soldiers they scale the wall.

Each keeps to its own course,

they do not swerve from their paths.

8 They do not jostle one another,

each keeps to its own track;

they burst through the weapons

and are not halted.

9 They leap upon the city,

they run upon the walls;

they climb up into the houses,

they enter through the windows like a thief.

10 The earth quakes before them,

the heavens tremble.

The sun and the moon are darkened,

and the stars withdraw their shining.

11 The Lord utters his voice

at the head of his army;

how vast is his host!

Numberless are those who obey his command.

Truly the day of the Lord is great;

terrible indeed—who can endure it?

12 Yet even now, says the Lord,

return to me with all your heart,

with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning;

13      rend your hearts and not your clothing.

Return to the Lord, your God,

for he is gracious and merciful,

slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love,

and relents from punishing.

14 Who knows whether he will not turn and relent,

and leave a blessing behind him,

a grain offering and a drink offering

for the Lord, your God?

15 Blow the trumpet in Zion;

sanctify a fast;

call a solemn assembly;

16      gather the people.

Sanctify the congregation;

assemble the aged;

gather the children,

even infants at the breast.

Let the bridegroom leave his room,

and the bride her canopy.

17 Between the vestibule and the altar

let the priests, the ministers of the Lord, weep.

Let them say, “Spare your people, O Lord,

and do not make your heritage a mockery,

a byword among the nations.

Why should it be said among the peoples,

‘Where is their God?’ ”

18 Then the Lord became jealous for his land,

and had pity on his people.

19 In response to his people the Lord said:

I am sending you

grain, wine, and oil,

and you will be satisfied;

and I will no more make you

a mockery among the nations.

20 I will remove the northern army far from you,

and drive it into a parched and desolate land,

its front into the eastern sea,

and its rear into the western sea;

its stench and foul smell will rise up.

Surely he has done great things!

21 Do not fear, O soil;

be glad and rejoice,

for the Lord has done great things!

22 Do not fear, you animals of the field,

for the pastures of the wilderness are green;

the tree bears its fruit,

the fig tree and vine give their full yield.

23 O children of Zion, be glad

and rejoice in the Lord your God;

for he has given the early rain for your vindication,

he has poured down for you abundant rain,

the early and the later rain, as before.

24 The threshing floors shall be full of grain,

the vats shall overflow with wine and oil.

25 I will repay you for the years

that the swarming locust has eaten,

the hopper, the destroyer, and the cutter,

my great army, which I sent against you.

26 You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied,

and praise the name of the Lord your God,

who has dealt wondrously with you.

And my people shall never again be put to shame.

27 You shall know that I am in the midst of Israel,

and that I, the Lord, am your God and there is no other.

And my people shall never again

be put to shame.

28 Then afterward

I will pour out my spirit on all flesh;

your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,

your old men shall dream dreams,

and your young men shall see visions.

29 Even on the male and female slaves,

in those days, I will pour out my spirit.

30 I will show portents in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and columns of smoke. 31 The sun shall be turned to darkness, and the moon to blood, before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes. 32 Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved; for in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there shall be those who escape, as the Lord has said, and among the survivors shall be those whom the Lord calls.


This could refer to a demonic army. It has no power over crops, although much of this has already been destroyed in the vision. They have power only over those who do not have the seal of God upon their foreheads. The anguish is that of the sting of a scorpion, and lasts five months, both limits provided by God. Yet, people will want to die, even though death will not come. We then discover that the locusts look like armored horses ready for battle, with riders upon them. The riders are clearly human, indicating that evil still has a human face. The torture for five months they inflict upon people is a limit God provides.

            In 9:13-21, the sixth trumpet and the second woe in announced by the eagle announces the coming of a human army and an historical battle of immense proportions. The head of the horses were like the head of lions. Their tails were like snakes. From their mouth came fire, smoke, and sulfur, which in turn killed one-third of the human race, a power given to the angel who blew this trumpet. Although this is a large number, it is still finite, a limit provided by God. The vision has a large human army, 200,000,000 strong and coming from the East. The contrast with 5:11 is clear: the army of God one cannot even count. The army chained at the Euphrates may be the Parthians, who had attacked the Roman Empire with great fierceness in the first century. Those not killed in this battle remain unrepentant, a fact that suggests that, as is typical of Old Testament prophecy, the purpose of judgment is always change of life.


Revelation 9:20-21 (NRSV)

20 The rest of humankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands or give up worshiping demons and idols of gold and silver and bronze and stone and wood, which cannot see or hear or walk. 21 And they did not repent of their murders or their sorceries or their fornication or their thefts.


The background for this battle may come from Ezekiel 38-39, for which see the beginning of this essay.

            Chapter 10 has the theme of a messenger from heaven. The fact that a cloud and rainbow wrap this angel suggests both the covenant with Noah after the flood and the covenant with Moses and the Hebrews at Sinai. The angel is powerful, a description also found in 5:2. He has a small scroll in his hand. In 5:1, the scroll has seven seals. Note that the contents of this scroll are the prophecies concerning the measuring rod in 11:1-3, the two witnesses in 11:4-14, and the seventh trumpet in 11:15-19. He had a voice like a roaring lion, an image provided by Amos and Psalm 29.


Amos 1:2 (NRSV)

2 And he said:

The Lord roars from Zion,

and utters his voice from Jerusalem;

the pastures of the shepherds wither,

and the top of Carmel dries up.


Amos 3:8 (NRSV)

8 The lion has roared;

who will not fear?

The Lord God has spoken;

who can but prophesy?


Psalm 29:3-9 (NRSV)

3 The voice of the Lord is over the waters;

the God of glory thunders,

the Lord, over mighty waters.

4 The voice of the Lord is powerful;

the voice of the Lord is full of majesty.

5 The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars;

the Lord breaks the cedars of Lebanon.

6 He makes Lebanon skip like a calf,

and Sirion like a young wild ox.

7 The voice of the Lord flashes forth flames of fire.

8 The voice of the Lord shakes the wilderness;

the Lord shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.

9 The voice of the Lord causes the oaks to whirl,

and strips the forest bare;

and in his temple all say, “Glory!”


With the voice of the angel come the seven claps of thunder, referring to the Lord. The writer is not to write down what he heard at this point. The angel stands on sea and land, raises his right hand to heaven, and announces that the time of waiting is over. With the seventh angle, we will see the fulfillment of the mystery of God. This mystery could refer to the overthrow of Satan, the birth of the Messiah, or to the purpose of God for the world. The background for the description of this angel and the command for silence by the writer may come from Daniel.


Daniel 12:7-9 (NRSV)

7 The man clothed in linen, who was upstream, raised his right hand and his left hand toward heaven. And I heard him swear by the one who lives forever that it would be for a time, two times, and half a time, and that when the shattering of the power of the holy people comes to an end, all these things would be accomplished. 8 I heard but could not understand; so I said, “My lord, what shall be the outcome of these things?” 9 He said, “Go your way, Daniel, for the words are to remain secret and sealed until the time of the end.


The writer receives the command by a voice from heaven to take the scroll from the angle and eat it. It will taste sweet going down, but will turn sour in his stomach. The background for this image may come from the adultery ordeal described in Numbers.


Numbers 5:12-31 (NRSV)

12 Speak to the Israelites and say to them: If any man’s wife goes astray and is unfaithful to him, 13 if a man has had intercourse with her but it is hidden from her husband, so that she is undetected though she has defiled herself, and there is no witness against her since she was not caught in the act; 14 if a spirit of jealousy comes on him, and he is jealous of his wife who has defiled herself; or if a spirit of jealousy comes on him, and he is jealous of his wife, though she has not defiled herself; 15 then the man shall bring his wife to the priest. And he shall bring the offering required for her, one-tenth of an ephah of barley flour. He shall pour no oil on it and put no frankincense on it, for it is a grain offering of jealousy, a grain offering of remembrance, bringing iniquity to remembrance.

16 Then the priest shall bring her near, and set her before the Lord; 17 the priest shall take holy water in an earthen vessel, and take some of the dust that is on the floor of the tabernacle and put it into the water. 18 The priest shall set the woman before the Lord, dishevel the woman’s hair, and place in her hands the grain offering of remembrance, which is the grain offering of jealousy. In his own hand the priest shall have the water of bitterness that brings the curse. 19 Then the priest shall make her take an oath, saying, “If no man has lain with you, if you have not turned aside to uncleanness while under your husband’s authority, be immune to this water of bitterness that brings the curse. 20 But if you have gone astray while under your husband’s authority, if you have defiled yourself and some man other than your husband has had intercourse with you,” 21 —let the priest make the woman take the oath of the curse and say to the woman—“the Lord make you an execration and an oath among your people, when the Lord makes your uterus drop, your womb discharge; 22 now may this water that brings the curse enter your bowels and make your womb discharge, your uterus drop!” And the woman shall say, “Amen. Amen.”

23 Then the priest shall put these curses in writing, and wash them off into the water of bitterness. 24 He shall make the woman drink the water of bitterness that brings the curse, and the water that brings the curse shall enter her and cause bitter pain. 25 The priest shall take the grain offering of jealousy out of the woman’s hand, and shall elevate the grain offering before the Lord and bring it to the altar; 26 and the priest shall take a handful of the grain offering, as its memorial portion, and turn it into smoke on the altar, and afterward shall make the woman drink the water. 27 When he has made her drink the water, then, if she has defiled herself and has been unfaithful to her husband, the water that brings the curse shall enter into her and cause bitter pain, and her womb shall discharge, her uterus drop, and the woman shall become an execration among her people. 28 But if the woman has not defiled herself and is clean, then she shall be immune and be able to conceive children.

29 This is the law in cases of jealousy, when a wife, while under her husband’s authority, goes astray and defiles herself, 30 or when a spirit of jealousy comes on a man and he is jealous of his wife; then he shall set the woman before the Lord, and the priest shall apply this entire law to her. 31 The man shall be free from iniquity, but the woman shall bear her iniquity.


            Chapter 11 expresses the content of the scroll eaten by the prophet.

            The first revelation in the scroll is in 11:1-2 and concerns the measuring rod. Someone tells the prophet to measure the sanctuary of God, the altar, and the people who worship there. These people could be the remnant of the Jews. It could also be a reference to the church. The temple, the center of the holy city Jerusalem, represents the people of God. The image may have several passages of the prophets in the background.


Ezekiel 40:1-6 (NRSV)

 In the twenty-fifth year of our exile, at the beginning of the year, on the tenth day of the month, in the fourteenth year after the city was struck down, on that very day, the hand of the Lord was upon me, and he brought me there. 2 He brought me, in visions of God, to the land of Israel, and set me down upon a very high mountain, on which was a structure like a city to the south. 3 When he brought me there, a man was there, whose appearance shone like bronze, with a linen cord and a measuring reed in his hand; and he was standing in the gateway. 4 The man said to me, “Mortal, look closely and listen attentively, and set your mind upon all that I shall show you, for you were brought here in order that I might show it to you; declare all that you see to the house of Israel.”

5 Now there was a wall all around the outside of the temple area. The length of the measuring reed in the man’s hand was six long cubits, each being a cubit and a handbreadth in length; so he measured the thickness of the wall, one reed; and the height, one reed. 6 Then he went into the gateway facing east, going up its steps, and measured the threshold of the gate, one reed deep.


Zechariah 2:5-9 (NRSV)

5 For I will be a wall of fire all around it, says the Lord, and I will be the glory within it.”

6 Up, up! Flee from the land of the north, says the Lord; for I have spread you abroad like the four winds of heaven, says the Lord. 7 Up! Escape to Zion, you that live with daughter Babylon. 8 For thus said the Lord of hosts (after his glory sent me) regarding the nations that plundered you: Truly, one who touches you touches the apple of my eye. 9 See now, I am going to raise my hand against them, and they shall become plunder for their own slaves. Then you will know that the Lord of hosts has sent me.


Jeremiah 31:39 (NRSV)

39 And the measuring line shall go out farther, straight to the hill Gareb, and shall then turn to Goah.


Unbelievers surround the city. He is to exclude the outer court, because gentles have it. They will trample the holy city for 3 ½ years. The number of years comes from Daniel.


Daniel 7:25 (NRSV)

25 He shall speak words against the Most High,

shall wear out the holy ones of the Most High,

and shall attempt to change the sacred seasons and the law;

and they shall be given into his power

for a time, two times, and half a time.


Daniel 12:7 (NRSV)

7 The man clothed in linen, who was upstream, raised his right hand and his left hand toward heaven. And I heard him swear by the one who lives forever that it would be for a time, two times, and half a time, and that when the shattering of the power of the holy people comes to an end, all these things would be accomplished.


In addition, the Zealots held Jerusalem for 3 ½ years before the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD. It became in Jewish literature a symbol for any persecution. Again, the number of years for persecution represents a limit set by God.


Luke 4:25 (NRSV)

25 But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land;


James 5:17 (NRSV)

17 Elijah was a human being like us, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth.


            The second revelation from the scroll eaten by the prophet concerns the two witnesses in 11:3-14. We will note in advance the contrast of these two faithful witnesses to God with the second beast from the land or false prophet in 13:11-17. This image could refer to several images. One possibility is that of Joshua and Zerubbabel. The reference to the olive trees and lamps give this a strong possibility.


Zechariah 4:3-13 (NRSV)

3 And by it there are two olive trees, one on the right of the bowl and the other on its left.” 4 I said to the angel who talked with me, “What are these, my lord?” 5 Then the angel who talked with me answered me, “Do you not know what these are?” I said, “No, my lord.” 6 He said to me, “This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, says the Lord of hosts. 7 What are you, O great mountain? Before Zerubbabel you shall become a plain; and he shall bring out the top stone amid shouts of ‘Grace, grace to it!’ ”

8 Moreover the word of the Lord came to me, saying, 9 “The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of this house; his hands shall also complete it. Then you will know that the Lord of hosts has sent me to you. 10 For whoever has despised the day of small things shall rejoice, and shall see the plummet in the hand of Zerubbabel.

“These seven are the eyes of the Lord, which range through the whole earth.” 11 Then I said to him, “What are these two olive trees on the right and the left of the lampstand?” 12 And a second time I said to him, “What are these two branches of the olive trees, which pour out the oil through the two golden pipes?” 13 He said to me, “Do you not know what these are?” I said, “No, my lord.”


They could then refer to the collective body of people of faithful priests and government leaders, or even of laity and clergy. Religious and civil leaders unite in witness. Joshua and Zerubbabel helped rebuild the temple after the exile. These two witnesses will help rebuild New Jerusalem, the new holy city, the church. They would then suffer for giving their witness. Another possible background for the image is that of Moses and Elijah, the Law and the Prophets. Another Jewish background for this image could be that of the Davidic Messiah and the Priestly Messiah. Fire comes from their mouths and consumes their enemies. They also have the power to cause draught and to turn the water into blood. In both cases, the background for these images may be from Moses and Elijah.


Deuteronomy 9:16-21 (NRSV)

16 Then I saw that you had indeed sinned against the Lord your God, by casting for yourselves an image of a calf; you had been quick to turn from the way that the Lord had commanded you. 17 So I took hold of the two tablets and flung them from my two hands, smashing them before your eyes. 18 Then I lay prostrate before the Lord as before, forty days and forty nights; I neither ate bread nor drank water, because of all the sin you had committed, provoking the Lord by doing what was evil in his sight. 19 For I was afraid that the anger that the Lord bore against you was so fierce that he would destroy you. But the Lord listened to me that time also. 20 The Lord was so angry with Aaron that he was ready to destroy him, but I interceded also on behalf of Aaron at that same time. 21 Then I took the sinful thing you had made, the calf, and burned it with fire and crushed it, grinding it thoroughly, until it was reduced to dust; and I threw the dust of it into the stream that runs down the mountain.


2 Kings 1:10 (NRSV)

10 But Elijah answered the captain of fifty, “If I am a man of God, let fire come down from heaven and consume you and your fifty.” Then fire came down from heaven, and consumed him and his fifty.


Exodus 7:17 (NRSV)

17 Thus says the Lord, “By this you shall know that I am the Lord.” See, with the staff that is in my hand I will strike the water that is in the Nile, and it shall be turned to blood.


1 Kings 17:1 (NRSV)

Now Elijah the Tishbite, of Tishbe in Gilead, said to Ahab, “As the Lord the God of Israel lives, before whom I stand, there shall be neither dew nor rain these years, except by my word.”


The author could be thinking of a religious and political figure working together for God. When they complete their witness, the Beast from the Abyss will wage war and kill them. Their corpses will hang for 3 ½ days in the “great city,” known also symbolically as Sodom and Egypt, in which the Lord was crucified. This specificity in the canonical text can only refer to Jerusalem. The point is that they refuse the messengers of God and oppress the people of God. The people of the world will celebrate their martyrdom. After the 3 ½ days is over, God will resurrect them. This could refer to the resurrected community as well. The background for this image may come from Ezekiel.


Ezekiel 37:5, 10 (NRSV)

5 Thus says the Lord God to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live.

10 I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude.


God brings them to heaven in a cloud, with their enemies watching them. An earthquake collapses one-tenth of the city, killing seven thousand persons, symbolizing many people from all social classes. The result of this act of judgment by God appears to be repentance by those who witness it: “and the rest were terrified and gave glory to the God of heaven.”

            The seventh trumpet, the third woe from the eagle, and the third revelation from the scroll eaten by the writer concern the end. Here is the answer to the prayer of the saints in 8:2-5, “Thy kingdom come.” Here is how the voices of heaven proclaim the end:


Revelation 11:15 (NRSV)

15 “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord

and of his Messiah,

and he will reign forever and ever.”


The twenty-four elders offer worship to God with their own hymn.


Revelation 11:17-18 (NRSV)

17 “We give you thanks, Lord God Almighty,

who are and who were,

for you have taken your great power

and begun to reign.

18 The nations raged,

but your wrath has come,

and the time for judging the dead,

for rewarding your servants, the prophets

and saints and all who fear your name,

both small and great,

and for destroying those who destroy the earth.”


This hymn is a reminder of Psalm 2, also quoted in Acts 4:23-31.


Psalm 2:1, 5 (NRSV)

1 Why do the nations conspire,

and the peoples plot in vain?

5 Then he will speak to them in his wrath,

and terrify them in his fury,


Note the reference to destroying those who destroy the earth. We might note the harshness of reality here. In order to come to the world God intends, judgment will come to those who rebel. The end means judgment for those who resist the purpose of God. Further, “those who destroy the earth” describes the revelation of the next chapters. The terrible power represented by the dragon, the beast from the sea, the beast from the land, and the prostitute, represent powers that destroy the earth. The purpose of God is to preserve the earth. Even with all the destruction described in this Book, the love of God for the world remains a central theme. Then the writer sees the opening of the sanctuary of God. He saw the Ark of the Covenant inside, symbolizing war. We might note a parallel with the account in II Maccabees.


2 Maccabees 2:5-8 (NRSV)

5 Jeremiah came and found a cave-dwelling, and he brought there the tent and the ark and the altar of incense; then he sealed up the entrance. 6 Some of those who followed him came up intending to mark the way, but could not find it. 7 When Jeremiah learned of it, he rebuked them and declared: “The place shall remain unknown until God gathers his people together again and shows his mercy. 8 Then the Lord will disclose these things, and the glory of the Lord and the cloud will appear, as they were shown in the case of Moses, and as Solomon asked that the place should be specially consecrated.”


2 Maccabees 8:5 (NRSV)

5 As soon as Maccabeus got his army organized, the Gentiles could not withstand him, for the wrath of the Lord had turned to mercy.


            Chapters 12 and 13 relate an unholy Trinity in the Dragon in 12-13, the Beast in 13:1-10, and the False Prophet in 13:11-18. They are those just described as “those who destroy the earth.” It is likely that these figures parallel the Holy Trinity and symbolism the collection of evil arrayed against God and the world and the church. 

            The Dragon is identified as Satan. 

            The Beast is clearly a political figure that demands worship, and there is no reason to identify it any further.  The beat reigns for three and one half years, and yet the seven heads represent seven emperors in successive reigns. This puts the lie to any literal interpretation of the number of years.  The end of the reign of the Beast would be soon, in the mind of the author.  He is specific enough to say this in 13:18: "This calls for wisdom: let him who has understanding reckon the number of the beast, for it is a human number, it number is six hundred and sixty six.”  Is it coincidental that Nero(n) Caesar, when written in Hebrew, comes out to be a number, 666?  Can it be a coincidence that there was a myth circulating at the time of the writing of Revelation that Nero was not dead? Surely, the author must connect these facts, and intends for the reader to do so.  The Beast is not other than Nero.  However, any political authority that demands such allegiance is a manifestation of the Beast as envisioned here.  That power was Rome in the time of the author. 

            The False Prophet is simply a religious figure who does the work of the political power, but with religious institutions and language behind him.  The horns that look like those of the Lamb’s suggest this is a deceptive character.  It may only be a coincidence that Josephus gained in standing with both Jews and Romans.  Many viewed him as a collaborator with Rome and therefore a traitor.

            There are also three women in Revelation. One is a sign in Chapter 12. She would appear to symbolize faithful Israel, giving birth to the messiah.  The male child is clearly Jesus, while being brought to heaven refers to the resurrection and ascension.  At this point, the author of this chapter clearly understands that Christianity arose out of the womb of faithful Israel.  God will protect the remnant.  The text says this protection occurs for three and one half years.  This can only be symbolic for the whole period over which God needs to protect the remnant.  We could view the period as beginning immediately after the resurrection of Jesus and continues on to this day.  The statement is made, "The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord of his Christ, and he shall reign for ever and ever." The beginning of this event is none other than the birth of the child. 

            Another woman is the prostitute, Babylon, in Chapter 17, but also in 11:8, 16:17-21, based upon Ezekiel 16.  It is likely historical Jerusalem, who opposed the church in the early days, who was responsible for the first martyrs, and the Roman armies would soon destroy it.  Jerusalem had aligned itself with Rome in order to destroy the church, but Rome would destroy it instead.  Of course, this is precisely what happened.  The author even sees rejoicing in heaven over the complete destruction of Jerusalem. The old Jerusalem had to pass away before the new could come. 

            The third woman was the Bride of chapter 21, also in Ezekiel 40-48, and most likely restored Jerusalem, which the Jewish Christian author would have viewed as the church.

            Chapter 12 relates the community faithful to God as suffering persecution. Her description as robed with the sun and standing on the moon, with a crown of 12 stars, suggests a priestly image. The fact that she is in labor suggests the sufferings predicted before the coming of the Messiah. She gives birth to a son who will rule all nations. The description of the son has a background familiar to the Old Testament.


Psalm 2:9 (NRSV)

9 You shall break them with a rod of iron,

and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.”


God immediately takes the child to heaven. This would appear to reference the resurrection and ascension of Jesus. After giving birth, the woman must hide in the desert from the threat of the dragon. The background for this image appears to be that of the exodus of the Hebrew people out of Egypt. In the Old Testament, the desert is often a place of refuge for the persecuted.


Exodus 2:15 (NRSV)

15 When Pharaoh heard of it, he sought to kill Moses.

But Moses fled from Pharaoh. He settled in the land of Midian, and sat down by a well.


1 Kings 17:2-6 (NRSV)

2 The word of the Lord came to him, saying, 3 “Go from here and turn eastward, and hide yourself by the Wadi Cherith, which is east of the Jordan. 4 You shall drink from the wadi, and I have commanded the ravens to feed you there.” 5 So he went and did according to the word of the Lord; he went and lived by the Wadi Cherith, which is east of the Jordan. 6 The ravens brought him bread and meat in the morning, and bread and meat in the evening; and he drank from the wadi.


1 Kings 19:3-8 (NRSV)

3 Then he was afraid; he got up and fled for his life, and came to Beer-sheba, which belongs to Judah; he left his servant there.

4 But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a solitary broom tree. He asked that he might die: “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors.” 5 Then he lay down under the broom tree and fell asleep. Suddenly an angel touched him and said to him, “Get up and eat.” 6 He looked, and there at his head was a cake baked on hot stones, and a jar of water. He ate and drank, and lay down again. 7 The angel of the Lord came a second time, touched him, and said, “Get up and eat, otherwise the journey will be too much for you.” 8 He got up, and ate and drank; then he went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb the mount of God.


1 Maccabees 2:29-30 (NRSV)

29 At that time many who were seeking righteousness and justice went down to the wilderness to live there, 30 they, their sons, their wives, and their livestock, because troubles pressed heavily upon them.


God has prepared this safe place. God has placed a limit upon what evil can do. The dragon, which is Satan, leads a battle in heaven. He and his angels experience defeat. God has brought down the “accuser” of the brothers and sisters in Christ. They triumph through the death of the Lamb and through the word proclaimed. Their willingness to experience martyrdom becomes their sign of success. Here is how the text puts it.


Revelation 12:10-12 (NRSV)

10 Then I heard a loud voice in heaven, proclaiming,

“Now have come the salvation and the power

and the kingdom of our God

and the authority of his Messiah,

for the accuser of our comrades has been thrown down,

who accuses them day and night before our God.

11 But they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb

and by the word of their testimony,

for they did not cling to life even in the face of death.

12 Rejoice then, you heavens

and those who dwell in them!

But woe to the earth and the sea,

for the devil has come down to you

with great wrath,

because he knows that his time is short!”


The fact that God cast the dragon to the earth is hardly a pleasant thought. We legitimately wonder why. The text gives no answer. What is significant is that the occasion for this battle in heaven is the coming of the birth of the Messiah. The dragon now takes out after the woman who gave birth to the Messiah. This woman represents the faithful Jewish community out of which the Messiah came, as well as the continuing faithfulness of those who witness to Christ. This battle between the woman and the dragon has a background provided by the Old Testament.


Genesis 3:15 (NRSV)

15 I will put enmity between you and the woman,

and between your offspring and hers;

he will strike your head,

and you will strike his heel.”


When the woman receives the wings of an eagle, we have a reference to Yahweh. The attempt of the dragon to kill the woman has a background in the Old Testament.


Numbers 16:30-34 (NRSV)

30 But if the Lord creates something new, and the ground opens its mouth and swallows them up, with all that belongs to them, and they go down alive into Sheol, then you shall know that these men have despised the Lord.”

31 As soon as he finished speaking all these words, the ground under them was split apart. 32 The earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up, along with their households—everyone who belonged to Korah and all their goods. 33 So they with all that belonged to them went down alive into Sheol; the earth closed over them, and they perished from the midst of the assembly. 34 All Israel around them fled at their outcry, for they said, “The earth will swallow us too!”


When the earth protects the woman, the dragon persecutes her children, “those who keep the commandments of God and hold the testimony of Jesus.”

            In chapter 13, the writer stands on the seashore. In verses 1-10, we have the emergence of a beast from the sea. It appears to be a midrash or paraphrase of Daniel 7, for which see the beginning of the essay. This beast comes from the sea, as do the four beasts of Daniel. The fourth beast has ten horns, as does the beast in this text. With the blasphemous titles on his head, he is in direct contrast to the vision of Christ in 19:12. The emergence from the sea is a reminder of Leviathan in the Old Testament. The beast in this text contains the characteristics of the first three beasts of Daniel, as lion, bear, and leopard. These images represent the tyranny practiced by the Beast from the Sea. One of the heads had a deadly injury, but experienced healing, after which the world followed the Beast. This could refer to the myth prevalent at the end of the first century where Nero had come back to life. It could also refer to Vespasian, whom Nero exiled, but who came back to power in 70 AD and ordered the destruction of Jerusalem. In this, the Beast from the Sea becomes a parody of the resurrection of Jesus. The nations of the world prostitute themselves before this Beast, saying, “Who can compare with the beast?” The background for this question we find in the Old Testament.


Exodus 15:11 (NRSV)

11 “Who is like you, O Lord, among the gods?

Who is like you, majestic in holiness,

awesome in splendor, doing wonders?


Psalm 35:10 (NRSV)

10 All my bones shall say,

“O Lord, who is like you?

You deliver the weak

from those too strong for them,

the weak and needy from those who despoil them.”


It is also a parody of the question of Michael in 12:7. God allows the beast to boat, blaspheme, and be active for three and one half years. People of the world will worship the Beast. A strong statement of predestination occurs at this point.


Revelation 13:8 (NRSV)

8 and all the inhabitants of the earth will worship it, everyone whose name has not been written from the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb that was slaughtered.


Along with this statement is a strong warning to the church.


Revelation 13:9-10 (NRSV)

9 Let anyone who has an ear listen:

10 If you are to be taken captive,

into captivity you go;

if you kill with the sword,

with the sword you must be killed.

Here is a call for the endurance and faith of the saints.


            The text describes the beast from the ground, or the false prophet, in 13:11-18. It is a description of Behemoth, and is a strong contrast with the way the text describes the Holy Spirit. Thus, although horns like the Lamb, it had the voice of the dragon. The miracles it works is a direct contrast with the two witnesses in 11:1-14. This beast puts anyone to death who does not worship the beast, another parallel with Daniel, only this time from Chapters 3:5 through 7:15. The brand on the forehead or right hand of those who submit to the beast from the sea is a direct to contrast to the mark placed on the foreheads of the 144,000 in 7:3. Lastly, we have reference to the beast from the sea:


Revelation 13:18 (NRSV)

18 This calls for wisdom: let anyone with understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a person. Its number is six hundred sixty-six.


In the Talmud, Midrashim, and the Cabala, a system of numerology called gematria developed. Gematria attempted to discover hidden meaning for words based on the numerical values of the letters. The Hebrew letters of the name Eliezer, Abraham’s servant, have a numerical value of 318. Gen. 14:14 says that Abraham took 318 trained men to pursue the kings from the east. The Midrash notes that Abraham had but one helper, Eliezer, since Eliezer has the numerical value of 318. In a similar pattern, bible scholars often take the number 666 in Revelation as a gematria for the emperor Nero. We might note that speculation concerning this number has been part of the Christian tradition. Here is one example.


Ireneaus (140-202 AD), Against Heresies, Book V, Chapter 29-30




    1. In the previous books I have set forth the causes for which God permitted these things to be made, and have pointed out that all such have been created for the benefit of that human nature which is saved, ripening for immortality that which is [possessed] of its own free will and its own power, and preparing and rendering it more adapted for eternal subjection to God. And therefore the creation is suited to [the wants of] man; for man was not made for its sake, but creation for the sake of man. Those nations however, who did not of themselves raise up their eyes unto heaven, nor returned thanks to their Maker, nor wished to behold the light of truth, but who were like blind mice concealed in the depths of ignorance, the word justly reckons "as waste water from a sink, and as the turning-weight of a balance--in fact, as nothing;"(1) so far useful and serviceable to the just, as stubble conduces towards the growth of the wheat, and its straw, by means of combustion, serves for working gold. And therefore, when in the end the Church shall be suddenly caught up from this, it is said, "There shall be tribulation such as has not been since the beginning, neither shall be."(2) For this is the last contest of the righteous, in which, when they overcome they are crowned with incorruption.

    2. And there is therefore in this beast, when he comes, a recapitulation made of all sorts of iniquity and of every deceit, in order that all apostate power, flowing into and being shut up in him, may be sent into the furnace of fire. Fittingly, therefore, shall his name possess the number six hundred and sixty-six, since he sums up in his own person all the commixture of wickedness which took place previous to the deluge, due to the apostasy of the angels. For Noah was six hundred years old when the deluge came upon the earth, sweeping away the rebellious world, for the sake of that most infamous generation which lived in the times of Noah. And [Antichrist] also sums up every error of devised idols since the flood, together with the slaying of the prophets and the cutting off of the just. For that image which was set up by Nebuchadnezzar had indeed a height of sixty cubits, while the breadth was six cubits; on account of which Ananias, Azarias, and Misael, when they did not worship it, were cast into a furnace of fire, pointing out prophetically, by what happened to them, the wrath against the righteous which shall arise towards the [time of the] end. For that image, taken as a whole, was a prefiguring of this man's coming, decreeing that he should undoubtedly himself alone be worshipped by all men. Thus, then, the six hundred years of Noah, in whose time the deluge occurred because of the apostasy, and the number of the cubits of the image for which these just men were sent into the fiery furnace, do indicate the number of the name of that man in whom is concentrated the whole apostasy of six thousand years, and unrighteousness, and wickedness, and false prophecy, and deception; for which things' sake a cataclysm of fire shall also come [upon the earth].




    1. Such, then, being the state of the case, and this number being found in all the most approved and ancient copies(3) [of the Apocalypse], and those men who saw John face to face bearing their testimony [to it]; while reason also leads us to conclude that the number of the name of the beast, [if reckoned] according to the Greek mode of calculation by the [value of] the letters  contained in it, will amount to six hundred and sixty and six; that is, the number of tens shall be equal to that of the hundreds, and the number of hundreds equal to that of the units (for that number which [expresses] the digit six being adhered to throughout, indicates the recapitulations of that apostasy, taken in its full extent, which occurred at the beginning, during the intermediate periods, and which shall take place at the end),--I do not know how it is that some have erred following the ordinary mode of speech, and have vitiated the middle number in the name, deducting the amount of fifty from it, so that instead of six decades they will have it that there is but one. [I am inclined to think that this occurred through the fault of the copyists, as is wont to happen, since numbers also are expressed by letters; so that the Greek letter which expresses the number sixty was easily expanded into the letter Iota of the Greeks.](4) Others then received this reading without examination; some in their simplicity, and upon their own responsibility, making use of this number expressing one decad; while some, in their inexperience, have ventured to seek out a name which should contain the erroneous and spurious number. Now, as regards those who have done this in simplicity, and without evil intent, we are at liberty to assume that pardon will be granted them by God. But as for those who, for the sake of vainglory, lay it down for certain that names containing the spurious number are to be accepted, and affirm that this name, hit upon by themselves, is that of him who is to come; such persons shall not come forth without loss, because they have led into error both themselves and those who confided in them. Now, in the first place, it is loss to wander from the truth, and to imagine that as being the case which is not; then again, as there shall be no light punishment [inflicted] upon him who either adds or subtracts anything from the Scripture,(1) under that such a person must necessarily fall. Moreover, another danger, by no means trifling, shall overtake those who falsely presume that they know the name of Antichrist. For if these men assume one [number], when this [Antichrist] shall come having another, they will be easily led away by him, as supposing him not to be the expected one, who must be guarded against.

    2. These men, therefore, ought to learn [what really is the state of the case], and go back to the true number of the name, that they be not reckoned among false prophets. But, knowing the sure number declared by Scripture, that is, six hundred sixty and six, let them await, in the first place, the division of the kingdom into ten; then, in the next place, when these kings are reigning, and beginning to set their affairs in order, and advance their kingdom, [let them learn] to acknowledge that he who shall come claiming the kingdom for himself, and shall terrify those men of whom we have been speaking, having a name containing the aforesaid number, is truly the abomination of desolation. This, too, the apostle affirms: "When they shall say, Peace and safety, then sudden destruction shall come upon them."(2) And Jeremiah does not merely point out his sudden coming, but he even indicates the tribe from which he shall come, where he says, "We shall hear the voice of his swift horses from Dan; the whole earth shall be moved by the voice of the neighing of his galloping horses: he shall also come and devour the earth, and the fulness thereof, the city also, and they that dwell therein."(3) This, too, is the reason that this tribe is not reckoned in the Apocalypse along with those which are saved.(4)

    3. It is therefore more certain, and less hazardous, to await the fulfillment of the prophecy, than to be making surmises, and casting about for any names that may present themselves, inasmuch as many names can be found possessing the number mentioned; and the same question will, after all, remain unsolved. For if there are many names found possessing this number, it will be asked which among them shall the coming man bear. It is not through a want of names containing the number of that name that I say this, but on account of the fear of God, and zeal for the truth: for the name Evanthas contains the required number, but I make no allegation regarding it. Then also Lateinos has the number six hundred and sixty-six; and it is a very probable [solution], this being the name of the last kingdom [of the four seen by Daniel]. For the Latins are they who at present bear rule:(5) I will not, however, make any boast over this [coincidence]. Teitan too, (TEITAN, the first syllable being written with the two Greek vowels among all the names which are found among us, is rather worthy of credit. For it has in itself the predicted number, and is composed of six letters, each syllable containing three letters; and [the word itself] is ancient, and removed from ordinary use; for among our kings we find none bearing this name Titan, nor have any of the idols which are worshipped in public among the Greeks and barbarians this appellation. Among many persons, too, this name is accounted divine, so that even the sun is termed "Titan" by those who do now possess [the rule]. This word, too, contains a certain outward appearance of vengeance, and of one inflicting merited punishment because he (Antichrist) pretends that he vindicates the oppressed.(6) And besides this, it is an ancient name, one worthy of credit, of royal dignity, and still further, a name belonging to a tyrant. Inasmuch, then, as this name "Titan" has so much to recommend it, there is a strong degree of probability, that from among the many [names suggested], we infer, that perchance he who is to come shall be called "Titan." We will not, however, incur the risk of pronouncing  positively as to the name of Antichrist; for if it  were necessary that his name should be distinctly revealed in this present time, it would have been announced by him who beheld the apocalyptic vision. For that was seen no very long time since, but almost in our day, towards the end of Domitian's reign.

    4. But he indicates the number of the name now, that when this man comes we may avoid him, being aware who he is: the name, however, is suppressed, because it is not worthy of being proclaimed by the Holy Spirit. For if it had been declared by Him, he (Antichrist) might perhaps continue for a long period. But now as "he was, and is not, and shall ascend out of the abyss, and goes into perdition,"(1) as one who has no existence; so neither has his name been declared, for the name of that which does not exist is not proclaimed. But when this Antichrist shall have devastated all things in this world, he will reign for three years and six months, and sit in the temple at Jerusalem; and then the Lord will come from heaven in the clouds, in the glory of the Father, sending this man and those who follow him into the lake of fire; but bringing in for the righteous the times of the kingdom, that is, the rest, the hallowed seventh day; and restoring to Abraham the promised inheritance, in which kingdom the Lord declared, that "many coming from the east and from the west should sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob."(2)


            Chapter 14 is a prelude to victory. The chapter also begins the theme of the contrast between old Jerusalem and new Jerusalem. The text begins with a description of the companions or soldiers of the Lamb in 14:1-5. The 144,000 have received a mark on their foreheads, in clear contrast to those who receive the mark of the beast. These are before the four living creatures who are around the throne of God. They “have kept their virginity and not been defiled with women.” This would imply they are only males if taken literally. However, the reference may be to a metaphor to for their refusal to worship other gods and thus remain faithful. In contrast to those who worship and follow the beast from the sea, these persons follow the Lamb where the Lamb goes. They are the first fruits for God and the Lamb. In contrast to the lies of the beast from the sea and the beast from the ground, these people do not lie and have no fault. The text continues with angels announcing the Day of Judgment in 14:6-13. This passage allows for no middle way. One worships God or the beast from the sea. The first angel announces the gospel of eternity, a reference unique to this text. The reference is not particularly Christian. The second angel announces the fall of Babylon. This reference has its background in the Old Testament.


Isaiah 21:9 (NRSV)

9 Look, there they come, riders,

horsemen in pairs!”

Then he responded,

“Fallen, fallen is Babylon;

and all the images of her gods

lie shattered on the ground.”


Jeremiah 51:7-8 (NRSV)

7 Babylon was a golden cup in the Lord’s hand,

making all the earth drunken;

the nations drank of her wine,

and so the nations went mad.

8 Suddenly Babylon has fallen and is shattered;

wail for her!

Bring balm for her wound;

perhaps she may be healed.


The third angel announces judgment upon those who follow or worship the beast from the sea. The fact that the angel promises God will torture them in the presence of God and the Lamb is an embarrassment to many readers today. The fact that this judgment is coming suggests a certain course of action for believers.



Revelation 14:12-13 (NRSV)

12 Here is a call for the endurance of the saints, those who keep the commandments of God and hold fast to the faith of Jesus.

13 And I heard a voice from heaven saying, “Write this: Blessed are the dead who from now on die in the Lord.” “Yes,” says the Spirit, “they will rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them.”


The chapter continues with the image of harvesting gentiles in 14:14-20. The one like a son of man has a gold crown and sharp sickle, with which another angel from the heavenly temple summons him to harvest the earth. It has some similarity with a story in Matthew.


Matthew 13:37-43 (NRSV)

37 “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man; 38 the field is the world, and the good seed are the children of the kingdom; the weeds are the children of the evil one, 39 and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. 40 Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. 41 The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, 42 and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let anyone with ears listen!


Another angel, carrying a sharp sickle, came from the heavenly temple. An angel in charge of the fire at the altar tells the angel with the sickle to harvest the grapes of the vine, for the harvest is ready. The angel collects the grapes from the earth and place them in a huge winepress of the anger of God. This occurred “outside the city,” to the point where blood rose as high as the bridles of horses, for 200 miles. The destruction of gentiles outside Jerusalem is part of the prophetic tradition. However, in this case, it could refer to the surrounding of Jerusalem by Rome in 66 AD, a siege that did not end until 70 AD. The devastation of the city was great. The Old Testament background for this is Zechariah 12-14 and Ezekiel 38-39, for which see the beginning of this essay.

            Chapters 15 and 16 bring the plagues of Egypt upon the earth again. Seven angels will do so. Those who fought against the beast and won have their harps and sing the hymn of Moses and the Lamb. Clearly, these are the 144,000. The hymn has its foundation in the Old Testament. The hymn contains no Christology. It also remains hopeful of conversion.


Psalm 92:5 (NRSV)

5 How great are your works, O Lord!

Your thoughts are very deep!


Deuteronomy 32:4 (NRSV)

4 The Rock, his work is perfect,

and all his ways are just.

A faithful God, without deceit,

just and upright is he;


Psalm 145:17 (NRSV)

17 The Lord is just in all his ways,

and kind in all his doings.


Jeremiah 10:7 (NRSV)

7 Who would not fear you, O King of the nations?

For that is your due;

among all the wise ones of the nations

and in all their kingdoms

there is no one like you.


Psalm 86:9 (NRSV)

9 All the nations you have made shall come

and bow down before you, O Lord,

and shall glorify your name.


Revelation 15:3-4 (NRSV)

3 “Great and amazing are your deeds,

Lord God the Almighty!

Just and true are your ways,

King of the nations!

4 Lord, who will not fear

and glorify your name?

For you alone are holy.

All nations will come

and worship before you,

for your judgments have been revealed.”


The seven bowls of the angels represent the Day of Atonement in reverse. The wine brings retribution rather than reconciliation, wrath rather than wine. The seven angels dressed in white emerge from the heavenly temple and are priestly figures. The smoke that fills the heavenly temple also has an Old Testament background.


1 Kings 8:10 (NRSV)

10 And when the priests came out of the holy place, a cloud filled the house of the Lord,


The loud voice in 16:1 is the voice of God commanding the judgments represented by these angels deliver upon the earth. The first angel brings the sixth plague of Egypt, bringing upon the people of the earth sores, possibly leprosy.


Exodus 9:8-11 (NRSV)

8 Then the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Take handfuls of soot from the kiln, and let Moses throw it in the air in the sight of Pharaoh. 9 It shall become fine dust all over the land of Egypt, and shall cause festering boils on humans and animals throughout the whole land of Egypt.” 10 So they took soot from the kiln, and stood before Pharaoh, and Moses threw it in the air, and it caused festering boils on humans and animals. 11 The magicians could not stand before Moses because of the boils, for the boils afflicted the magicians as well as all the Egyptians.


The second angel brings the first plague of Egypt, turning the water to blood. Josephus offers this description in his War 3.10.9:


But now, when the vessels were gotten ready, Vespasian put upon ship-board as many of his forces as he thought sufficient to be too hard for those that were upon the lake, and set sail after them. Now these which were driven into the lake could neither fly to the land, where all was in their enemies' hand, and in war against them; nor could they fight upon the level by sea, for their ships were small and fitted only for piracy; they were too weak to fight with Vespasian's vessels, and the mariners that were in them were so few, that they were afraid to come near the Romans, who attacked them in great numbers. However, as they sailed round about the vessels, and sometimes as they came near them, they threw stones at the Romans when they were a good way off, or came closer and fought them; yet did they receive the greatest harm themselves in both cases. As for the stones they threw at the Romans, they only made a sound one after another, for they threw them against such as were in their armor, while the Roman darts could reach the Jews themselves; and when they ventured to come near the Romans, they became sufferers themselves before they could do any harm to the ether, and were drowned, they and their ships together. As for those that endeavored to come to an actual fight, the Romans ran many of them through with their long poles. Sometimes the Romans leaped into their ships, with swords in their hands, and slew them; but when some of them met the vessels, the Romans caught them by the middle, and destroyed at once their ships and themselves who were taken in them. And for such as were drowning in the sea, if they lifted their heads up above the water, they were either killed by darts, or caught by the vessels; but if, in the desperate case they were in, they attempted to swim to their enemies, the Romans cut off either their heads or their hands; and indeed they were destroyed after various manners every where, till the rest being put to flight, were forced to get upon the land, while the vessels encompassed them about [on the sea]: but as many of these were repulsed when they were getting ashore, they were killed by the darts upon the lake; and the Romans leaped out of their vessels, and destroyed a great many more upon the land: one might then see the lake all bloody, and full of dead bodies, for not one of them escaped. And a terrible stink, and a very sad sight there was on the following days over that country; for as for the shores, they were full of shipwrecks, and of dead bodies all swelled; and as the dead bodies were inflamed by the sun, and putrefied, they corrupted the air, insomuch that the misery was not only the object of commiseration to the Jews, but to those that hated them, and had been the authors of that misery. This was the upshot of the sea-fight. The number of the slain, including those that were killed in the city before, was six thousand and five hundred.


The third angel also brings the first plague. Since they have lived by spilling blood, God will force them to drink blood, and judgment viewed as true and just.


Exodus 7:14-24 (NRSV)

14 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Pharaoh’s heart is hardened; he refuses to let the people go. 15 Go to Pharaoh in the morning, as he is going out to the water; stand by at the river bank to meet him, and take in your hand the staff that was turned into a snake. 16 Say to him, ‘The Lord, the God of the Hebrews, sent me to you to say, “Let my people go, so that they may worship me in the wilderness.” But until now you have not listened. 17 Thus says the Lord, “By this you shall know that I am the Lord.” See, with the staff that is in my hand I will strike the water that is in the Nile, and it shall be turned to blood. 18 The fish in the river shall die, the river itself shall stink, and the Egyptians shall be unable to drink water from the Nile.’ ” 19 The Lord said to Moses, “Say to Aaron, ‘Take your staff and stretch out your hand over the waters of Egypt—over its rivers, its canals, and its ponds, and all its pools of water—so that they may become blood; and there shall be blood throughout the whole land of Egypt, even in vessels of wood and in vessels of stone.’ ”

20 Moses and Aaron did just as the Lord commanded. In the sight of Pharaoh and of his officials he lifted up the staff and struck the water in the river, and all the water in the river was turned into blood, 21 and the fish in the river died. The river stank so that the Egyptians could not drink its water, and there was blood throughout the whole land of Egypt. 22 But the magicians of Egypt did the same by their secret arts; so Pharaoh’s heart remained hardened, and he would not listen to them, as the Lord had said. 23 Pharaoh turned and went into his house, and he did not take even this to heart. 24 And all the Egyptians had to dig along the Nile for water to drink, for they could not drink the water of the river.


The fourth angel brings a drought, a plague not visited upon Egypt. Yet, the possibility of repentance remains, even though they do not take it.


Revelation 16:9 (NRSV)

9 but they cursed the name of God, who had authority over these plagues, and they did not repent and give him glory.


The fifth angel brings the ninth plague to the throne of the beast from the sea and his empire, thereby bringing darkness.


Exodus 10:21-23 (NRSV)

21 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand toward heaven so that there may be darkness over the land of Egypt, a darkness that can be felt.” 22 So Moses stretched out his hand toward heaven, and there was dense darkness in all the land of Egypt for three days. 23 People could not see one another, and for three days they could not move from where they were; but all the Israelites had light where they lived.


Again, people have a chance to repent, but refuse to do so.


Revelation 16:11 (NRSV)

11 and (they) cursed the God of heaven because of their pains and sores, and they did not repent of their deeds.


The sixth angel brings the second plague of Egypt, pouring this wrath over Euphrates, drying it up so that armies from the east can come. Normally, this would be good for Jerusalem, for a drought to the north would mean the nations there could not wage war in Israel. This time, however, it brings war. The dragon, the beast from the sea, and the beast from the ground all send out messengers to do their bidding. They are like propaganda on behalf of the beast.


Exodus 8:2-3 (NRSV)

2 If you refuse to let them go, I will plague your whole country with frogs. 3 The river shall swarm with frogs; they shall come up into your palace, into your bedchamber and your bed, and into the houses of your officials and of your people, and into your ovens and your kneading bowls.


At this point, we hear the third beatitude in this book.


Revelation 16:15-16 (NRSV)

15 (“See, I am coming like a thief! Blessed is the one who stays awake and is clothed, not going about naked and exposed to shame.”) 16 And they assembled them at the place that in Hebrew is called Harmagedon.


The seventh angel pours out the seventh plague of Egypt upon the sky. A great voice, the voice of God, shouts: “The end has come.” Lightening, thunder, and earthquake appear.


Exodus 9:22-26 (NRSV)

22 The Lord said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand toward heaven so that hail may fall on the whole land of Egypt, on humans and animals and all the plants of the field in the land of Egypt.” 23 Then Moses stretched out his staff toward heaven, and the Lord sent thunder and hail, and fire came down on the earth. And the Lord rained hail on the land of Egypt; 24 there was hail with fire flashing continually in the midst of it, such heavy hail as had never fallen in all the land of Egypt since it became a nation. 25 The hail struck down everything that was in the open field throughout all the land of Egypt, both human and animal; the hail also struck down all the plants of the field, and shattered every tree in the field. 26 Only in the land of Goshen, where the Israelites were, there was no hail.


“The Great City” split apart.. “Babylon the Great” received full judgment. Islands and mountains disappear. Large hail falls from the sky, a possible reference to armaments. “They cursed God for sending a plague of hail; it was the most terrible plague.”

            Chapters 17:1-19:10 deal with the punishment of Babylon. Once again, the Old Testament provides the background for this material.


Ezekiel 16 (NRSV)

God’s Faithless Bride

16 The word of the Lord came to me: 2 Mortal, make known to Jerusalem her abominations, 3 and say, Thus says the Lord God to Jerusalem: Your origin and your birth were in the land of the Canaanites; your father was an Amorite, and your mother a Hittite. 4 As for your birth, on the day you were born your navel cord was not cut, nor were you washed with water to cleanse you, nor rubbed with salt, nor wrapped in cloths. 5 No eye pitied you, to do any of these things for you out of compassion for you; but you were thrown out in the open field, for you were abhorred on the day you were born.

6 I passed by you, and saw you flailing about in your blood. As you lay in your blood, I said to you, “Live! 7 and grow up like a plant of the field.” You grew up and became tall and arrived at full womanhood;your breasts were formed, and your hair had grown; yet you were naked and bare.

8 I passed by you again and looked on you; you were at the age for love. I spread the edge of my cloak over you, and covered your nakedness: I pledged myself to you and entered into a covenant with you, says the Lord God, and you became mine. 9 Then I bathed you with water and washed off the blood from you, and anointed you with oil. 10 I clothed you with embroidered cloth and with sandals of fine leather; I bound you in fine linen and covered you with rich fabric. 11 I adorned you with ornaments: I put bracelets on your arms, a chain on your neck, 12 a ring on your nose, earrings in your ears, and a beautiful crown upon your head. 13 You were adorned with gold and silver, while your clothing was of fine linen, rich fabric, and embroidered cloth. You had choice flour and honey and oil for food. You grew exceedingly beautiful, fit to be a queen. 14 Your fame spread among the nations on account of your beauty, for it was perfect because of my splendor that I had bestowed on you, says the Lord God.

15 But you trusted in your beauty, and played the whore because of your fame, and lavished your whorings on any passer-by. 16 You took some of your garments, and made for yourself colorful shrines, and on them played the whore; nothing like this has ever been or ever shall be. 17 You also took your beautiful jewels of my gold and my silver that I had given you, and made for yourself male images, and with them played the whore; 18 and you took your embroidered garments to cover them, and set my oil and my incense before them. 19 Also my bread that I gave you—I fed you with choice flour and oil and honey—you set it before them as a pleasing odor; and so it was, says the Lord God. 20 You took your sons and your daughters, whom you had borne to me, and these you sacrificed to them to be devoured. As if your whorings were not enough! 21 You slaughtered my children and delivered them up as an offering to them. 22 And in all your abominations and your whorings you did not remember the days of your youth, when you were naked and bare, flailing about in your blood.

23 After all your wickedness (woe, woe to you! says the Lord God), 24 you built yourself a platform and made yourself a lofty place in every square; 25 at the head of every street you built your lofty place and prostituted your beauty, offering yourself to every passer-by, and multiplying your whoring. 26 You played the whore with the Egyptians, your lustful neighbors, multiplying your whoring, to provoke me to anger. 27 Therefore I stretched out my hand against you, reduced your rations, and gave you up to the will of your enemies, the daughters of the Philistines, who were ashamed of your lewd behavior. 28 You played the whore with the Assyrians, because you were insatiable; you played the whore with them, and still you were not satisfied. 29 You multiplied your whoring with Chaldea, the land of merchants; and even with this you were not satisfied.

30 How sick is your heart, says the Lord God, that you did all these things, the deeds of a brazen whore; 31 building your platform at the head of every street, and making your lofty place in every square! Yet you were not like a whore, because you scorned payment. 32 Adulterous wife, who receives strangers instead of her husband! 33 Gifts are given to all whores; but you gave your gifts to all your lovers, bribing them to come to you from all around for your whorings. 34 So you were different from other women in your whorings: no one solicited you to play the whore; and you gave payment, while no payment was given to you; you were different.

35 Therefore, O whore, hear the word of the Lord: 36 Thus says the Lord God, Because your lust was poured out and your nakedness uncovered in your whoring with your lovers, and because of all your abominable idols, and because of the blood of your children that you gave to them, 37 therefore, I will gather all your lovers, with whom you took pleasure, all those you loved and all those you hated; I will gather them against you from all around, and will uncover your nakedness to them, so that they may see all your nakedness. 38 I will judge you as women who commit adultery and shed blood are judged, and bring blood upon you in wrath and jealousy. 39 I will deliver you into their hands, and they shall throw down your platform and break down your lofty places; they shall strip you of your clothes and take your beautiful objects and leave you naked and bare. 40 They shall bring up a mob against you, and they shall stone you and cut you to pieces with their swords. 41 They shall burn your houses and execute judgments on you in the sight of many women; I will stop you from playing the whore, and you shall also make no more payments. 42 So I will satisfy my fury on you, and my jealousy shall turn away from you; I will be calm, and will be angry no longer. 43 Because you have not remembered the days of your youth, but have enraged me with all these things; therefore, I have returned your deeds upon your head, says the Lord God.

Have you not committed lewdness beyond all your abominations? 44 See, everyone who uses proverbs will use this proverb about you, “Like mother, like daughter.” 45 You are the daughter of your mother, who loathed her husband and her children; and you are the sister of your sisters, who loathed their husbands and their children. Your mother was a Hittite and your father an Amorite. 46 Your elder sister is Samaria, who lived with her daughters to the north of you; and your younger sister, who lived to the south of you, is Sodom with her daughters. 47 You not only followed their ways, and acted according to their abominations; within a very little time you were more corrupt than they in all your ways. 48 As I live, says the Lord God, your sister Sodom and her daughters have not done as you and your daughters have done. 49 This was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy. 50 They were haughty, and did abominable things before me; therefore I removed them when I saw it. 51 Samaria has not committed half your sins; you have committed more abominations than they, and have made your sisters appear righteous by all the abominations that you have committed. 52 Bear your disgrace, you also, for you have brought about for your sisters a more favorable judgment; because of your sins in which you acted more abominably than they, they are more in the right than you. So be ashamed, you also, and bear your disgrace, for you have made your sisters appear righteous.

53 I will restore their fortunes, the fortunes of Sodom and her daughters and the fortunes of Samaria and her daughters, and I will restore your own fortunes along with theirs, 54 in order that you may bear your disgrace and be ashamed of all that you have done, becoming a consolation to them. 55 As for your sisters, Sodom and her daughters shall return to their former state, Samaria and her daughters shall return to their former state, and you and your daughters shall return to your former state. 56 Was not your sister Sodom a byword in your mouth in the day of your pride, 57 before your wickedness was uncovered? Now you are a mockery to the daughters of Aram and all her neighbors, and to the daughters of the Philistines, those all around who despise you. 58 You must bear the penalty of your lewdness and your abominations, says the Lord.

An Everlasting Covenant

59 Yes, thus says the Lord God: I will deal with you as you have done, you who have despised the oath, breaking the covenant; 60 yet I will remember my covenant with you in the days of your youth, and I will establish with you an everlasting covenant. 61 Then you will remember your ways, and be ashamed when I take your sisters, both your elder and your younger, and give them to you as daughters, but not on account of mycovenant with you. 62 I will establish my covenant with you, and you shall know that I am the Lord, 63 in order that you may remember and be confounded, and never open your mouth again because of your shame, when I forgive you all that you have done, says the Lord God.


The punishment comes upon “the great prostitute” (17:1), “drunk with the blood of the saints, and the blood of the martyrs of Jesus.” The name of this prostitute was “Babylon the Great.” The physical description of the prostitute is consistent with the temple and the high priest. In addition to Ezekiel 16, we have several other Old Testament parallels to this prostitute.


Hosea 2:5 (NRSV)

5 For their mother has played the whore;

she who conceived them has acted shamefully.

For she said, “I will go after my lovers;

they give me my bread and my water,

my wool and my flax, my oil and my drink.”


Hosea 3:3 (NRSV)

3 And I said to her, “You must remain as mine for many days; you shall not play the whore, you shall not have intercourse with a man, nor I with you.”


Hosea 4:15 (NRSV)

15 Though you play the whore, O Israel,

do not let Judah become guilty.

Do not enter into Gilgal,

or go up to Beth-aven,

and do not swear, “As the Lord lives.”


Isaiah 1:4 (NRSV)

4 Ah, sinful nation,

people laden with iniquity,

offspring who do evil,

children who deal corruptly,

who have forsaken the Lord,

who have despised the Holy One of Israel,

who are utterly estranged!


Isaiah 1:9 (NRSV)

9 If the Lord of hosts

had not left us a few survivors,

we would have been like Sodom,

and become like Gomorrah.


Isaiah 1:21 (NRSV)

21 How the faithful city

has become a whore!

She that was full of justice,

righteousness lodged in her—

but now murderers!


Isaiah 8:7-8 (NRSV)

7 therefore, the Lord is bringing up against it the mighty flood waters of the River, the king of Assyria and all his glory; it will rise above all its channels and overflow all its banks; 8 it will sweep on into Judah as a flood, and, pouring over, it will reach up to the neck; and its outspread wings will fill the breadth of your land, O Immanuel.


Jeremiah 2:20 (NRSV)

20 For long ago you broke your yoke

and burst your bonds,

and you said, “I will not serve!”

On every high hill

and under every green tree

you sprawled and played the whore.


Jeremiah 3:1 (NRSV)

 If a man divorces his wife

and she goes from him

and becomes another man’s wife,

will he return to her?

Would not such a land be greatly polluted?

You have played the whore with many lovers;

and would you return to me?

     says the Lord.


Jeremiah 3:6 (NRSV)

6 The Lord said to me in the days of King Josiah: Have you seen what she did, that faithless one, Israel, how she went up on every high hill and under every green tree, and played the whore there?


Jeremiah 3:8 (NRSV)

8 She saw that for all the adulteries of that faithless one, Israel, I had sent her away with a decree of divorce; yet her false sister Judah did not fear, but she too went and played the whore.


Jeremiah 3:10 (NRSV)

10 Yet for all this her false sister Judah did not return to me with her whole heart, but only in pretense, says the Lord.


Jeremiah 5:9 (NRSV)

9 Shall I not punish them for these things?

     says the Lord;

and shall I not bring retribution

on a nation such as this?


This prostitute rides on a scarlet beast with seven heads and ten horns. The angel, one of those with the bowls of wrath, said that he will explain to the writer the meaning of the beast and the prostitute. The beast was once alive, and is alive no long, and yet is to come up from the Abyss. This description is precisely the opposite of the divine description of one who was, is, and is to come. 17:8 is another strong statement of predestination.


Revelation 17:8 (NRSV)

8 The beast that you saw was, and is not, and is about to ascend from the bottomless pit and go to destruction. And the inhabitants of the earth, whose names have not been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world, will be amazed when they see the beast, because it was and is not and is to come.


The description of the beast begins with saying that the seven heads are seven hills, clearly a reference to Rome. They are also seven emperors. At this point, we recognize that the three and one half years given to the beast in 13:5 is purely symbolic, for the succession of emperors suggests a far longer period. Five have already gone, one reigns now, and one is to come. The beast is the eighth and one of the seven. Here is a list of the emperors of Rome.


Caesar, 49-44BC

Augustus, 31 BC-14 AD

Tiberius, AD14-37

Caligula, 37-41, an emperor who deified himself and placed an image of himself in the temple in Jerusalem.

Claudius, 41-54

Nero, 54-68, an emperor who, after his death, arose the myth of his return.

68-69, Galba, Otho, Vitellius

Vespasian, 69-79, an emperor who was the favorite of Nero, then fell out of favor, and then rose to power after the death of Nero.

Titus, 79-81

Domitian, 81-96

Nerva, 96-98

Trajan, 98-117

Hasrian, 117-138


The ten horns are kings, most likely referring to governors of Palestine during this period. These governors will place themselves at the disposal of the beast and will be against the Lamb. Since the Lamb is “king of kings and Lord of Lords,” the Lamb defeats the beast. This name for the Lamb is a reminder of the Old Testament.


Deuteronomy 10:17 (NRSV)

17 For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who is not partial and takes no bribe,


The governors of Palestine and Rome will turn against “the great city.” At this point, the most reasonable conclusion one can draw is that the author refers to 70 AD and the encircling of Jerusalem by the Romans.

            In Chapter 18, we have a description Jerusalem and its relationship to the wicked of the earth. The prophets could be just as harsh in their judgment.


Amos 5:2 (NRSV)

2 Fallen, no more to rise,

is maiden Israel;

forsaken on her land,

with no one to raise her up.


Ezekiel 14:8 (NRSV)

8 I will set my face against them; I will make them a sign and a byword and cut them off from the midst of my people; and you shall know that I am the Lord.


Isaiah 21:9 (NRSV)

9 Look, there they come, riders,

horsemen in pairs!”

Then he responded,

“Fallen, fallen is Babylon;

and all the images of her gods

lie shattered on the ground.”


Another angel declares that Babylon the Great is an uninhabited city, something largely true after 70 AD in Jerusalem. Wealth was part of the seduction of the city by Rome. People became wealthy through it. Another angel tells “my people” to leave the city. God will treat the city as the city has treated others, the principle of an eye for an eye. The city will be punished double for what it gave to others. One might compare the punishment of the daughter of a priest with the punishment given to this city.


Leviticus 21:9 (NRSV)

9 When the daughter of a priest profanes herself through prostitution, she profanes her father; she shall be burned to death.


Kings of the earth have prostituted themselves with this city. They mourn over the downfall of the city in 18:10. We may find a description of this mourning in Josephus, War 6.5.3-4.


3. 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 (20) resembling a sword, which stood over the city, and a comet, that continued a whole year. Thus also before the Jews' rebellion, and before those commotions which preceded the war, when the people were come in great crowds to the feast of unleavened bread, on the eighth day of the month Xanthicus, (21) [Nisan,] and at the ninth hour of the night, so great a light shone round the altar and the holy house, that it appeared to be bright day time; which lasted for half an hour. This light seemed to be a good sign to the unskillful, but was so interpreted by the sacred scribes, as to portend those events that followed immediately upon it. At the same festival also, a heifer, as she was led by the high priest to be sacrificed, brought forth a lamb in the midst of the temple. Moreover, the eastern gate of the inner (22) [court of the] temple, which was of brass, and vastly heavy, and had been with difficulty shut by twenty men, and rested upon a basis armed with iron, and had bolts fastened very deep into the firm floor, which was there made of one entire stone, was seen to be opened of its own accord about the sixth hour of the night. Now those that kept watch in the temple came hereupon running to the captain of the temple, and told him of it; who then came up thither, and not without great difficulty was able to shut the gate again. This also appeared to the vulgar to be a very happy prodigy, as if God did thereby open them the gate of happiness. But the men of learning understood it, that the security of their holy house was dissolved of its own accord, and that the gate was opened for the advantage of their enemies. So these publicly declared that the signal foreshowed the desolation that was coming upon them. 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. Moreover, at that feast which we call Pentecost, as the priests were going by night into the inner [court of the temple,] as their custom was, to perform their sacred ministrations, they said that, in the first place, they felt a quaking, and heard a great noise, and after that they heard a sound as of a great multitude, saying, "Let us remove hence." But, what is still more terrible, there was one Jesus, the son of Ananus, a plebeian and a husbandman, who, four years before the war began, and at a time when the city was in very great peace and prosperity, came to that feast whereon it is our custom for every one to make tabernacles to God in the temple, (23) began on a sudden to cry aloud, "A voice from the east, a voice from the west, a voice from the four winds, a voice against Jerusalem and the holy house, a voice against the bridegrooms and the brides, and a voice against this whole people!" This was his cry, as he went about by day and by night, in all the lanes of the city. However, certain of the most eminent among the populace had great indignation at this dire cry of his, and took up the man, and gave him a great number of severe stripes; yet did not he either say any thing for himself, or any thing peculiar to those that chastised him, but still went on with the same words which he cried before. Hereupon our rulers, supposing, as the case proved to be, that this was a sort of divine fury in the man, brought him to the Roman procurator, where he was whipped till his bones were laid bare; yet he did not make any supplication for himself, nor shed any tears, but turning his voice to the most lamentable tone possible, at every stroke of the whip his answer was, "Woe, woe to Jerusalem!" And when Albinus (for he was then our procurator) asked him, Who he was? and whence he came? and why he uttered such words? he made no manner of reply to what he said, but still did not leave off his melancholy ditty, till Albinus took him to be a madman, and dismissed him. Now, during all the time that passed before the war began, this man did not go near any of the citizens, nor was seen by them while he said so; but he every day uttered these lamentable words, as if it were his premeditated vow, "Woe, woe to Jerusalem!" Nor did he give ill words to any of those that beat him every day, nor good words to those that gave him food; but this was his reply to all men, and indeed no other than a melancholy presage of what was to come. This cry of his was the loudest at the festivals; and he continued this ditty for seven years and five months, without growing hoarse, or being tired therewith, until the very time that he saw his presage in earnest fulfilled in our siege, when it ceased; for as he was going round upon the wall, he cried out with his utmost force, "Woe, woe to the city again, and to the people, and to the holy house!" And just as he added at the last, "Woe, woe to myself also!" there came a stone out of one of the engines, and smote him, and killed him immediately; and as he was uttering the very same presages he gave up the ghost.


4. Now if any one consider these things, he will find that God takes care of mankind, and by all ways possible foreshows to our race what is for their preservation; but that men perish by those miseries which they madly and voluntarily bring upon themselves; for the Jews, by demolishing the tower of Antonia, had made their temple four-square, while at the same time they had it written in their sacred oracles, "That then should their city be taken, as well as their holy house, when once their temple should become four-square." But now, what did the most elevate them in undertaking this war, was an ambiguous oracle that was also found in their sacred writings, how," about that time, one from their country should become governor of the habitable earth." The Jews took this prediction to belong to themselves in particular, and many of the wise men were thereby deceived in their determination. Now this oracle certainly denoted the government of Vespasian, who was appointed emperor in Judea. However, it is not possible for men to avoid fate, although they see it beforehand. But these men interpreted some of these signals according to their own pleasure, and some of them they utterly despised, until their madness was demonstrated, both by the taking of their city and their own destruction.


Those engaged in business life also mourn over the fall of the city in 18:16-17. The items identified in 18:12-13 have uses in the Temple. Those who sail the seas morn the fall of the city in 18:19. In all of this mourning, we find a parallel in the Old Testament.


Ezekiel 26-28 (NRSV)

Proclamation against Tyre

26 In the eleventh year, on the first day of the month, the word of the Lord came to me: 2 Mortal, because Tyre said concerning Jerusalem,

“Aha, broken is the gateway of the peoples;

it has swung open to me;

I shall be replenished,

now that it is wasted,”

3 therefore, thus says the Lord God:

See, I am against you, O Tyre!

I will hurl many nations against you,

as the sea hurls its waves.

4 They shall destroy the walls of Tyre

and break down its towers.

I will scrape its soil from it

and make it a bare rock.

5 It shall become, in the midst of the sea,

a place for spreading nets.

I have spoken, says the Lord God.

It shall become plunder for the nations,

6      and its daughter-towns in the country

shall be killed by the sword.

Then they shall know that I am the Lord.

7 For thus says the Lord God: I will bring against Tyre from the north King Nebuchadrezzar of Babylon, king of kings, together with horses, chariots, cavalry, and a great and powerful army.

8 Your daughter-towns in the country

he shall put to the sword.

He shall set up a siege wall against you,

cast up a ramp against you,

and raise a roof of shields against you.

9 He shall direct the shock of his battering rams against your walls

and break down your towers with his axes.

10 His horses shall be so many

that their dust shall cover you.

At the noise of cavalry, wheels, and chariots

your very walls shall shake,

when he enters your gates

like those entering a breached city.

11 With the hoofs of his horses

he shall trample all your streets.

He shall put your people to the sword,

and your strong pillars shall fall to the ground.

12 They will plunder your riches

and loot your merchandise;

they shall break down your walls

and destroy your fine houses.

Your stones and timber and soil

they shall cast into the water.

13 I will silence the music of your songs;

the sound of your lyres shall be heard no more.

14 I will make you a bare rock;

you shall be a place for spreading nets.

You shall never again be rebuilt,

for I the Lord have spoken,

says the Lord God.

15 Thus says the Lord God to Tyre: Shall not the coastlands shake at the sound of your fall, when the wounded groan, when slaughter goes on within you? 16 Then all the princes of the sea shall step down from their thrones; they shall remove their robes and strip off their embroidered garments. They shall clothe themselves with trembling, and shall sit on the ground; they shall tremble every moment, and be appalled at you. 17 And they shall raise a lamentation over you, and say to you:

How you have vanished from the seas,

O city renowned,

once mighty on the sea,

you and your inhabitants,

who imposed your terror

on all the mainland!

18 Now the coastlands tremble

on the day of your fall;

the coastlands by the sea

are dismayed at your passing.

19 For thus says the Lord God: When I make you a city laid waste, like cities that are not inhabited, when I bring up the deep over you, and the great waters cover you, 20 then I will thrust you down with those who descend into the Pit, to the people of long ago, and I will make you live in the world below, among primeval ruins, with those who go down to the Pit, so that you will not be inhabited or have a place in the land of the living. 21 I will bring you to a dreadful end, and you shall be no more; though sought for, you will never be found again, says the Lord God.

Lamentation over Tyre

27 The word of the Lord came to me: 2 Now you, mortal, raise a lamentation over Tyre, 3 and say to Tyre, which sits at the entrance to the sea, merchant of the peoples on many coastlands, Thus says the Lord God:

O Tyre, you have said,

“I am perfect in beauty.”

4 Your borders are in the heart of the seas;

your builders made perfect your beauty.

5 They made all your planks

of fir trees from Senir;

they took a cedar from Lebanon

to make a mast for you.

6 From oaks of Bashan

they made your oars;

they made your deck of pines

from the coasts of Cyprus,

inlaid with ivory.

7 Of fine embroidered linen from Egypt

was your sail,

serving as your ensign;

blue and purple from the coasts of Elishah

was your awning.

8 The inhabitants of Sidon and Arvad

were your rowers;

skilled men of Zemer were within you,

they were your pilots.

9 The elders of Gebal and its artisans were within you,

caulking your seams;

all the ships of the sea with their mariners were within you,

to barter for your wares.

10 Paras and Lud and Put

were in your army,

your mighty warriors;

they hung shield and helmet in you;

they gave you splendor.

11 Men of Arvad and Helech

were on your walls all around;

men of Gamad were at your towers.

They hung their quivers all around your walls;

they made perfect your beauty.

12 Tarshish did business with you out of the abundance of your great wealth; silver, iron, tin, and lead they exchanged for your wares. 13 Javan, Tubal, and Meshech traded with you; they exchanged human beings and vessels of bronze for your merchandise. 14 Beth-togarmah exchanged for your wares horses, war horses, and mules. 15 The Rhodians traded with you; many coastlands were your own special markets; they brought you in payment ivory tusks and ebony. 16 Edom did business with you because of your abundant goods; they exchanged for your wares turquoise, purple, embroidered work, fine linen, coral, and rubies. 17 Judah and the land of Israel traded with you; they exchanged for your merchandise wheat from Minnith, millet, honey, oil, and balm. 18 Damascus traded with you for your abundant goods—because of your great wealth of every kind—wine of Helbon, and white wool. 19 Vedan and Javan from Uzal entered into trade for your wares; wrought iron, cassia, and sweet cane were bartered for your merchandise. 20 Dedan traded with you in saddlecloths for riding. 21 Arabia and all the princes of Kedar were your favored dealers in lambs, rams, and goats; in these they did business with you. 22 The merchants of Sheba and Raamah traded with you; they exchanged for your wares the best of all kinds of spices, and all precious stones, and gold. 23 Haran, Canneh, Eden, the merchants of Sheba, Asshur, and Chilmad traded with you. 24 These traded with you in choice garments, in clothes of blue and embroidered work, and in carpets of colored material, bound with cords and made secure; in these they traded with you. 25 The ships of Tarshish traveled for you in your trade.

So you were filled and heavily laden

in the heart of the seas.

26 Your rowers have brought you

into the high seas.

The east wind has wrecked you

in the heart of the seas.

27 Your riches, your wares, your merchandise,

your mariners and your pilots,

your caulkers, your dealers in merchandise,

and all your warriors within you,

with all the company

that is with you,

sink into the heart of the seas

on the day of your ruin.

28 At the sound of the cry of your pilots

the countryside shakes,

29 and down from their ships

come all that handle the oar.

The mariners and all the pilots of the sea

stand on the shore

30 and wail aloud over you,

and cry bitterly.

They throw dust on their heads

and wallow in ashes;

31 they make themselves bald for you,

and put on sackcloth,

and they weep over you in bitterness of soul,

with bitter mourning.

32 In their wailing they raise a lamentation for you,

and lament over you:

“Who was ever destroyed like Tyre

in the midst of the sea?

33 When your wares came from the seas,

you satisfied many peoples;

with your abundant wealth and merchandise

you enriched the kings of the earth.

34 Now you are wrecked by the seas,

in the depths of the waters;

your merchandise and all your crew

have sunk with you.

35 All the inhabitants of the coastlands

are appalled at you;

and their kings are horribly afraid,

their faces are convulsed.

36 The merchants among the peoples hiss at you;

you have come to a dreadful end

and shall be no more forever.”

Proclamation against the King of Tyre

28 The word of the Lord came to me: 2 Mortal, say to the prince of Tyre, Thus says the Lord God:

Because your heart is proud

and you have said, “I am a god;

I sit in the seat of the gods,

in the heart of the seas,”

yet you are but a mortal, and no god,

though you compare your mind

with the mind of a god.

3 You are indeed wiser than Daniel;

no secret is hidden from you;

4 by your wisdom and your understanding

you have amassed wealth for yourself,

and have gathered gold and silver

into your treasuries.

5 By your great wisdom in trade

you have increased your wealth,

and your heart has become proud in your wealth.

6 Therefore thus says the Lord God:

Because you compare your mind

with the mind of a god,

7 therefore, I will bring strangers against you,

the most terrible of the nations;

they shall draw their swords against the beauty of your wisdom

and defile your splendor.

8 They shall thrust you down to the Pit,

and you shall die a violent death

in the heart of the seas.

9 Will you still say, “I am a god,”

in the presence of those who kill you,

though you are but a mortal, and no god,

in the hands of those who wound you?

10 You shall die the death of the uncircumcised

by the hand of foreigners;

for I have spoken, says the Lord God.

Lamentation over the King of Tyre

11 Moreover the word of the Lord came to me: 12 Mortal, raise a lamentation over the king of Tyre, and say to him, Thus says the Lord God:

You were the signet of perfection,

full of wisdom and perfect in beauty.

13 You were in Eden, the garden of God;

every precious stone was your covering,

carnelian, chrysolite, and moonstone,

beryl, onyx, and jasper,

sapphire, turquoise, and emerald;

and worked in gold were your settings

and your engravings.

On the day that you were created

they were prepared.

14 With an anointed cherub as guardian I placed you;

you were on the holy mountain of God;

you walked among the stones of fire.

15 You were blameless in your ways

from the day that you were created,

until iniquity was found in you.

16 In the abundance of your trade

you were filled with violence, and you sinned;

so I cast you as a profane thing from the mountain of God,

and the guardian cherub drove you out

from among the stones of fire.

17 Your heart was proud because of your beauty;

you corrupted your wisdom for the sake of your splendor.

I cast you to the ground;

I exposed you before kings,

to feast their eyes on you.

18 By the multitude of your iniquities,

in the unrighteousness of your trade,

you profaned your sanctuaries.

So I brought out fire from within you;

it consumed you,

and I turned you to ashes on the earth

in the sight of all who saw you.

19 All who know you among the peoples

are appalled at you;

you have come to a dreadful end

and shall be no more forever.

Proclamation against Sidon

20 The word of the Lord came to me: 21 Mortal, set your face toward Sidon, and prophesy against it, 22 and say, Thus says the Lord God:

I am against you, O Sidon,

and I will gain glory in your midst.

They shall know that I am the Lord

when I execute judgments in it,

and manifest my holiness in it;

23 for I will send pestilence into it,

and bloodshed into its streets;

and the dead shall fall in its midst,

by the sword that is against it on every side.

And they shall know that I am the Lord.

24 The house of Israel shall no longer find a pricking brier or a piercing thorn among all their neighbors who have treated them with contempt. And they shall know that I am the Lord God.

Future Blessing for Israel

25 Thus says the Lord God: When I gather the house of Israel from the peoples among whom they are scattered, and manifest my holiness in them in the sight of the nations, then they shall settle on their own soil that I gave to my servant Jacob. 26 They shall live in safety in it, and shall build houses and plant vineyards. They shall live in safety, when I execute judgments upon all their neighbors who have treated them with contempt. And they shall know that I am the Lord their God.


            In 18:20-24, the martyrs celebrate the fall of the city. Babylon has killed the prophets and saints, so Babylon will also experience the death sentence. That which causes mourning to kings, traders, and sailors causes the saints to rejoice. 19:1-10 continues the celebration in heaven over the fall of the city. Here are the songs that heaven sings.


Revelation 19:1-2 (NRSV)


Salvation and glory and power to our God,

2      for his judgments are true and just;

he has judged the great whore

who corrupted the earth with her fornication,

and he has avenged on her the blood of his servants.”


Revelation 19:3 (NRSV)

3 “Hallelujah!

The smoke goes up from her forever and ever.”


As aside, note this text: Isaiah 34:10 (NRSV)

10 Night and day it shall not be quenched;

its smoke shall go up forever.

From generation to generation it shall lie waste;

no one shall pass through it forever and ever.


Revelation 19:4 (NRSV)

4 “Amen. Hallelujah!”


Revelation 19:5 (NRSV)

5 “Praise our God,

all you his servants,

and all who fear him,

small and great.”


Revelation 19:7-8 (NRSV)

7 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;

8 to her it has been granted to be clothed

with fine linen, bright and pure”—

for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.


Involved in this praise in heaven is a huge crowd, the 24 elders, the 4 living creatures, and a voice from the throne. We also hear the fifth beatitude.


Revelation 19:9 (NRSV)

9 Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.”


            The destruction of the forces that are destroying the earth occurs in 19:11-20:15. The best Old Testament background for this account is Ezekiel 37-39, a text to which we have had occasion to refer already. The writer sees heaven open, a white horse with a rider called Trustworthy and True. Blood soaks his cloak, a possible reference to the martyrs, or also his enemies. It has a resemblance to the Old Testament.


Isaiah 63:1 (NRSV)

 “Who is this that comes from Edom,

from Bozrah in garments stained crimson?

Who is this so splendidly robed,

marching in his great might?”

“It is I, announcing vindication,

mighty to save.”

The rider has a name known only to himself, as well as one by which others know him, “Word of God.” The armies of heaven may be the martyrs. The sharp sword may be the Word of God. This is the child referred to in chapter 12. The name he has on his thigh is King of kings and Lord of lords, which, when put into numbers, is 777. We also find this name previously in 17:14. An angel standing in the sun shouted to the birds to gather, for they will eat the dead. Birds were a sign of imminent judgment. The beast and false prophet gather an army against this rider on a white horse, but the rider and his armies quickly defeat the beast and his armies. The rider on the white horse kills those who received the mark of the beast with the sword that came from his mouth. God hurls the beast and false prophet into the fiery lake of burning sulfur.

            Chapter 20 continues with an account of the reign of 1000 years. An angel overpowers Satan and chains him up in the Abyss for 1000 years. The martyrs for the faith and those who refused the mark of the beast come back to life and reign with Christ for 1000 years. For some, this even already occurred in the first century. The martyrs, apostles, and the faithful of the first century already reign with Christ through the church in history. For others, the resurrection began the 1000-year reign of Christ. We might call both of these interpretations as spiritual ones. The literal interpretation has never gained great ascendancy in the church.The rest of the dead will not come to new life and bodies until the end of the 1000 years. We have the fifth beatitude in this context.


Revelation 20:6 (NRSV)

6 Blessed and holy are those who share in the first resurrection. Over these the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him a thousand years.


When the thousand years are over, God will release Satan. He will again lead people astray. The reference to Gog and Magog, from Ezekiel 38, 2, 9, 15, symbolizes the gentile nations in league against the church at the end of time. The armies of Satan will swarm the new Promised Land, with Jerusalem as its capitol. However, fire from heaven will consume the armies. God will then cast Satan into lake of fire and sulfur, the same destination as the beast and false prophet. Their torture will continue forever. These images have their source in the Old Testament.


Ezekiel 38:2 (NRSV)

2 Mortal, set your face toward Gog, of the land of Magog, the chief prince of Meshech and Tubal. Prophesy against him


Ezekiel 38:9 (NRSV)

9 You shall advance, coming on like a storm; you shall be like a cloud covering the land, you and all your troops, and many peoples with you.


Ezekiel 38:15 (NRSV)

15 and come from your place out of the remotest parts of the north, you and many peoples with you, all of them riding on horses, a great horde, a mighty army;


Ezekiel 38:22 (NRSV)

22 With pestilence and bloodshed I will enter into judgment with him; and I will pour down torrential rains and hailstones, fire and sulfur, upon him and his troops and the many peoples that are with him.


After this final judgment of those who destroyed the earth, namely, Satan, beast, and false prophet, one appears on a great white throne. This bears resemblance with an Old Testament image.


Daniel 7:9-14 (NRSV)

9 As I watched,

thrones were set in place,

and an Ancient One took his throne,

his clothing was white as snow,

and the hair of his head like pure wool;

his throne was fiery flames,

and its wheels were burning fire.

10 A stream of fire issued

and flowed out from his presence.

A thousand thousands served him,

and ten thousand times ten thousand stood attending him.

The court sat in judgment,

and the books were opened.

11 I watched then because of the noise of the arrogant words that the horn was speaking. And as I watched, the beast was put to death, and its body destroyed and given over to be burned with fire. 12 As for the rest of the beasts, their dominion was taken away, but their lives were prolonged for a season and a time. 13 As I watched in the night visions,

I saw one like a human being

coming with the clouds of heaven.

And he came to the Ancient One

and was presented before him.

14 To him was given dominion

and glory and kingship,

that all peoples, nations, and languages

should serve him.

His dominion is an everlasting dominion

that shall not pass away,

and his kingship is one

that shall never be destroyed.


Earth and sky vanish. The dead stand before the throne, and the books of their lives lay open before the one on the throne. God judged the dead, according to their deeds. The sea, Death, and Hades were emptied of the dead in them. Everyone experienced judgment as their deeds deserved. Then God hurled Death and Hades into the burning lake, a lake that symbolizes the second death. Anyone not found in the book of life God hurls into the burning lake.

            Chapter 21-22 give an account of the Jerusalem of the future. This heavenly Jerusalem suggests a new creation, a new city, a new exodus, and a new state of bliss. This new Jerusalem, holy city, and bride, is quite different from the prostitute described in chapters 17-18. As an announcement of the coming of this city, we hear these words:


Revelation 21:3-7 (NRSV)

3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,

“See, the home of God is among mortals.

He will dwell with them as their God;

they will be his peoples,

and God himself will be with them;

4 he will wipe every tear from their eyes.

Death will be no more;

mourning and crying and pain will be no more,

for the first things have passed away.”

5 And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.” 6 Then 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 water as a gift from the spring of the water of life. 7 Those who conquer will inherit these things, and I will be their God and they will be my children.


We find a similarity in these words with the Old Testament.


Isaiah 44:6 (NRSV)

6 Thus says the Lord, the King of Israel,

and his Redeemer, the Lord of hosts:

I am the first and I am the last;

besides me there is no god.


Isaiah 40:1 (NRSV)

Comfort, O comfort my people,

says your God.


One of the angels with the bowls of wrath invites the writer to see the bride the Lamb has married. The angel shows him Jerusalem, the holy city, coming from heaven. It had the glory of God, symbolized in precious jewels. It has twelve gates and twelve foundation stones, symbolizing respectively the tribes of Israel and the apostles. In the background of the description of this city is the account in Ezekiel 40-48. As the angel measured the city, he discovered that it was a cube of 12,000 furlongs, or about 15,000 miles. This distance happens to be the distance from Jerusalem to Rome. The wall was 144 cubits, another multiple of 12. The jewels out of which the wall is built are part of the breastplate of the high priest. We then read the final description of the city. This city incorporates images from the Garden of Eden and from the Holy City in a renewed vision of the future.


Revelation 21:22-22:5 (NRSV)

22 I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. 23 And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb. 24 The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it. 25 Its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. 26 People will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. 27 But nothing unclean will enter it, nor anyone who practices abomination or falsehood, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life.

 Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb 2 through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. 3 Nothing accursed will be found there any more. But the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him; 4 they will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. 5 And there will be no more night; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.


            The final words of this text are assurances of the soon coming of the Lord and that the testimony of this text trustworthy. We find two more beatitudes, bringing the total to seven:


Revelation 22:7 (NRSV)

7 “See, I am coming soon! Blessed is the one who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book.”

Revelation 22:14 (NRSV)

14 Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they will have the right to the tree of life and may enter the city by the gates.


We find an invitation to come to Christ.


Revelation 21:6b (NRSV)

6 To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life.


Revelation 22:17 (NRSV)

17 The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.”

And let everyone who hears say, “Come.”

And let everyone who is thirsty come.

Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift.



We find several references to the soon return of the Lord at the conclusion of this text.


Revelation 22:7 (NRSV)

7 “See, I am coming soon! Blessed is the one who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book.”

Revelation 22:10 (NRSV)

10 And he said to me, “Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book, for the time is near.


Revelation 22:12-13 (NRSV)

12 “See, I am coming soon; my reward is with me, to repay according to everyone’s work. 13 I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.”

Revelation 22:20 (NRSV)

20 The one who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.”

Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!


The text ends with these words.


Revelation 22:21 (NRSV)

21 The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all the saints. Amen.


            In his vision of history, the turning point is the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus.  The way the writer portrays God has a direct contrast to the way the writer portrays the Dragon. His celebration of the unity of God with the Lamb in Chapters 4-5 is astounding.  However, most stunning is the celebration of victory in 11:14-19, combined with the birth of the messiah in 12:1-6.  For this writer, the battle between God and Satan has achieved heightened intensity with the coming of Jesus.  The first appearance of the messiah was so full of meaning that only at this time is he able to describe Satan as being thrown to the earth in 12:7­-12, after a battle with Michael and his angels.  The spiritual battle is intensely taking place on earth.  Satan first tries to kill faithful Israel, but God protects her so she can hide in the wilderness. Satan kills others, who have sprung from the womb of faithful Israel, that is, Christians.  These are the martyrs for the faith.  Satan enlists the power of a political entity, Rome, in order to continue the persecution of Christians. Someone in the church will seek compliance with Rome.  In the writer's mind, Nero is the great symbol of the power of the beast and what it can do against Christians.  At the same time, the writer envisions the remnant of Jewish-­Christians being preserved rather than extinguished.  He sees two witnesses standing for Christ and calling for judgment.  These witnesses will die, as will many who remain faithful.

            What happens to the church in the midst of this persecution and suffering?  The main point the writer wants to drive home is that believers must remain faithful.  Be aware of the power of Satan and political authority doing Satan's bidding, and even beware of a church leader who will lead you astray.  Beware of false teachings and immorality.  Just keep faithful.  For the writer, persecution has brought a situation in which believers must make clear choices.  Now is the time to make them.

            Is it possible that we are still in the three and one half-year reign of the Beast?  In one sense, we are.  That time began with the birth of Christ and the first emperor.  There is no reason to limit the beast to the first century, although the author of this book would be shocked that history has gone on for another 1900 years beyond his own time. American Christians may find it very difficult to relate to living during the reign of the Beast.  I wager that Christians who are today dying for their faith all over the world would have little difficulty seeing the Beast as being alive and well. God still protects true Israel in the wilderness, and the two witnesses have continued through the centuries, under this interpretation.

            Before the writer can pass from the past and present to the future, he must fit the fall of Jerusalem into his scheme.  In fact, the occasion of the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD would appear to be the immediate cause of the writing of this book.  He interprets the fall of Jerusalem as God judging Israel for its attempts to kill believers.  Heaven rejoices at her destruction, at least suggesting a break of the covenant with historical Israel, while maintaining the covenant with true Israel and the church.

            Having removed historical Israel from his view, he can now concentrate on the future.  He uses images from the Hebrew Scriptures to describe that future.  He uses the plagues of Egypt in Exodus to describe the judgment of God in bringing deliverance at the end of time.  He uses Ezekiel 38-39 as an image for the great army to come and destroy Israel.  He uses the terrible destruction that locusts cause in order to imagine the army of Hell against Israel.  He gives the valley of Megiddo, strategically important for Israel's defense, major importance as the place where the final battle will take place.  Suddenly Jesus appears, and his victory is simple and easy.  God throws the Beast and the False Prophet into the lake of fire.  God ties up Satan for a thousand years in Hell.  Jesus establishes a kingdom upon earth that is ruled by the martyrs throughout history who are raised from the dead at this time.  This is the first resurrection.  At the end of their time, Satan is released, armies mobilized, but fire will come down and destroy the armies while Satan is put into the lake of fire, where he and the two beasts will be tortured forever.  Then there will be a great white throne with God sitting upon it, to judge all who have lived.  Those not found in the book of life will be sent to the burning lake, apparently to suffer forever. Only then can a New Jerusalem come from heaven to earth.  Israel is restored, combining both the remnant of Israel and the church.  The Garden of Eden will be at its center.  Then all suffering will cease.  This vision is patterned rather closely in Ezekiel.  In Chapters 38-39, there is the battle of Gog and Magog, followed in Chapter 40-48 by a description of a restored Jerusalem and Temple.

            Revelation contains a rather clear portrayal of the history of Rome, or more specifically, Nero.  Moreover, he certainly believed that once Jerusalem was destroyed there was nothing more left to happen as far as world history was concerned.  Therefore, he believed the end would happen soon.  In Chapter 1, he says that the book concerns "what must soon take place, (V. 1).  He says the words of this book must be listened to because, "the time is near,, (v. 3).  In v. 7 he implies that those who killed Jesus would see him come in power and glory.  An angel announces in 10:6 that "there should be no more delay.,, In 22:6 he comes back to that which, 'must soon take place," and has Jesus announce in v. 7, ,i am coming soon', (also v. 12).  The prophecies of the book should not be sealed, "for the time is near,, (v. 10) . And of course the dramatic conclusion, "He who testifies to these things says, 'Surely I am coming soon., Amen.  Come, Lord Jesus (v. 20).

            Of course, the reality that the world has continued to exist for such a long time would surprise the author of the book of Revelation.  However, it would have surprised Jesus, Paul, and the rest of the first century Christians.  The community out of which came the Gospel of John may not have shared that surprise, since they focused on resurrection life available today.  Revelation differs in that it does believe the fall of Jerusalem should set in motion the end of the world, as we know it.  This is similar to the adjustments in the Book of Daniel, as there were several revisions, as the expected did not occur when expected.  Jesus seems to have believed that his own coming was enough to proclaim the end of the world, as we know it.  That is consistent with Paul as well.  The world events which apocalyptic literature generally looked to, and which the Book of Revelation participates in, were believed to have happened in the conduct, message, and fate of one man, Jesus of Nazareth.

Apocalyptic expectations have not stopped.  Many have writers and groups have speculated that the end might happen soon, just as the author of Revelation has done.  All have been wrong.  It is time admit that the basic apocalyptic hope, that God will put an end to the suffering and evil of this world through direct intervention, will not occur.  It is the only honest thing to do.

There is, however, a great loss in giving up apocalyptic.  One could easily conclude that we have about two billion years, so what is the hurry!  We could also conclude that if a random act of the universe could bring about our end, there is little reason to care.  There is too much left to chance.  Whatever we build now could be so easily destroyed.  At least apocalyptic has the hope for a new world, the strength in the midst of suffering and persecution, and especially the sense of urgency to act in a way that makes one ready for that end.  The solution may be a rather simple one.  An increased awareness of our own finitude could help at this point.  God gives us such a brief time on this planet.  We need to use that time to make a positive contribution to the lives of others, to our communities, and to our world. 

Gnostic Texts and John

            Another development in the Roman world that had a profound effect upon the development of Christianity is Gnosticism.  The sources involved can be found in the Corpus Hermeticum, Mandaean writings, and the Nag Hammadi texts.  There are extensive quotes in the early church writings of the second and third centuries that, to a large degree, appear to be accurate accounts of Gnostic beliefs.  Gnosticism believed that special knowledge was available to an elite group.  The questions with which they deal are expressed well in a quote from Clement of Alexandria:


... the knowledge: who were we? what have we become? where were we? into what place have we been cast? whither are we hastening? from what are we freed? what is birth? what is rebirth?


Answers to questions like these come in a mythological worldview.  They viewed the cosmos as interconnecting spheres, the earth as a globe because this was viewed as a perfect form.  In philosophy, this meant keeping everything in balance and harmony.  Gnosticism viewed the earth as under the control of hostile powers.  The earth itself is evil, intent upon the destruction of humanity.  The stars symbolize the desire of humanity to escape to the world beyond this darkness toward the light. While philosophy viewed fate as a positive force, Gnosticism viewed it as a hostile, imprisoning force.  God is in the world of light and does not participate in the earth at all.  Gnosticism also agreed with philosophy that humanity could be distinguished between body and soul.  However, it believed that both body and soul were prisoners to the world, with its evil laws.  The soul is evil because it deceives itself with the false beauty of the world.  Liberation can come in this system only as individuality is destroyed.  This led to an extreme form of asceticism, a retreat from the world into subjectivity, as the predominate ethic of Gnostic.  Yet, they also established communities in which they could encourage one another toward knowledge on a higher plane.  They came to understand that humanity seeks liberation because there is a divine spark or seen within us which years to be free.  This spark either ascended from below or descended from the world of light above, depending upon the brand of Gnosticism one believed in.  In either case, the noise of the world numbs this spark.  The light within recognizes the light without, and this is liberation.  Liberation is becoming one’s true self.

The Gospel of Truth (180-200 AD)

This text is from Nag Hammadi. It is surely a Gnostic text and possibly Valentinian. It contains influences from the Gospel of John.


The gospel of truth is a joy for those who have received from the Father of truth the gift of knowing him, through the power of the Word that came forth from the pleroma – the one who is in the though and the mind of the Father, that is, the one who is addressed as the Savior.


While the name of the gospel is the proclamation of hope, being discovery for those who search for him.


The text criticizes the God of Israel as reflected in the Hebrew Scriptures.


Indeed the all went about searching for the one from whom it had come forth, and the all was inside of him, the incomprehensible, inconceivable one who is superior to every thought. Ignorance of the Father brought about anguish and terror. And the anguish grew soid like a fog so that on one was able to see. For this reason error became powerful; it fashioned its own matter foolishly, not having known the truth. It set about making a creature, with all its might preparing, in beauty, the substitute for the truth.


Since oblivion came into existence because the Father was not known, then if the Father comes to be known, oblivion will not exist from that moment on.


The text reflects devotion for Christ.


This is the gospel of the one who is searched for, which was revealed to those who are perfect through the mercies of the Father – the hidden mystery, Jesus, the Christ. Through it he enlightened those who were in darkness. Out of oblivion he enlightened them, he showed them a way. And the way is the truth which he taught them.

            For this reason error grew angry at him, persecuted him, was distressed at him, and was brought to naught. He was nailed to a tree; he became a fruit of the knowledge of the Father.


As in the case of one of whom some are ignorant, who wishes to have them know him and love him, so he became a guide, restful and leisurely. He went into the midst of the schools and he spoke the word as a teacher. There came the wise men – in their own estimation – putting him to the test.


After all these, there came the little children also, those to whom the knowledge of the Father belongs. … there was revealed in their heart the living book of the living – the one written in the thought and the mind of the Father. … For this reason the merciful one, the faithful one, Jesus, was patient in accepting sufferings until he took that book, since he knows that his death in life for many.


Just as there lies hidden in awill, before it is opened, the fortune of the deceased master of the house, so it is with the all,which lay hidden while the Father of the all was invisible, the onewho is from himself, from whom all spaces come forth. For this reason Jesus appeared; he put on that book; he was nailed to a tree; he published the edict of the Father on the Cross. O such great teaching! He draws himself down to death though life eternal clothes him. Having stripped himself of the perishable rags, he put on imperishability, which no one can possibly take away from him. … being knowledge and perfection, proclaiming the things that are in the heart of the Father in order to [?] teach these who will receive teaching.


His wisdom contemplates the Word, his teaching utters it, his knowledge has revealed it, his forbearance is a crown upon it, his gladness is in harmony with it, his glory has exalted it, his image has revealed it, his repose has received it into itself, his love has made a body over it, his fidelity has embraced it. In this way the Word of the Father goes forth in the all, at the fruit of his heart and an impression of his will.


The Father reveals his bosom – now his bosom is the Holy Spirit. He reveals what is hidden of him – what is hidden of him is his Son – so that through the mercies of the Father the aeons may know him and cease laboring in search of the Father…


The Word came into the midst …


He is the shepherd who left behind the ninety-nine sheep which were not lost. He went searching for the one which was lost.


The text discusses the relationship between Father and Son.


Now the name of the Father is the Son. It is he who first gave a name to the one who came forth from him, who was himself, and he begot him as a son. He gave him his name which belonged to him; he is the one to whom  belongs all that exists around him, the Father. His is the name; his is the Son.


This text offers that the possibility of perfection to those who unite to Christ. This union sometimes contains Eucharistic language.


In time Unity will perfect the spaces. It is within Unity that each one will attain himself; within knowledge he will purify himself from multiplicity into Unity, consuming matter without himself like fire, and darkness by light, death by life.


Truth came into the midst; all its emanations knew it. They greeted the Father in truth with a perfect power that joins them with the Father.


He who is joined to the truth is joined to the Father’s mouth by his tongue, whenever he is to receive the Holy Spirit. This is the manifestation of the Father and his revelation to his aeons: he manifested what was hidden of him; he explained it.


The knowledge of the Father they value as the dawn. This is the way each one has acted, as though asleep at the time when he was ignorant. And this is the way he has come to knowledge, as if he had awakened. And Good for the man who will come to and awaken. And blessed is he who has opened the eyes of the blind.


For when they had seen him and had heard him, he granted them to taste him and to smell him and to touch the beloved Son. When he had appeared instructing them about the Father … For he came by means of fleshly appearance while nothing blocked his course because it was incorruptibility and irresistibility. Again, speaking new things, still speaking about what is in the heart of the Father, he brought forth the flawless word. Light spoke through his moth and his voice gave birth to life. He gave them thought and understanding and mercy and salvation and the powerful spirit from the infiniteness and the gentleness of the Father. … he became a way for those who were lost and knowledge for those who were ignorant, a discover for those who were searching, and a support for those who were wavering, immaculateness for those who were defiled.


The text encourages discipleship.


Speak of the truth with those who search for it … Make firm the foot of those who have stumbled … Feed those who are hungry and give repose to those who are weary, and raise up those who wish to rise, and awaken those who sleep.

For the Father is gentle and in his will there are good things. He took cognizance of the things that are yours that you might fend rest in them.


The Word which was first to come forth revealed them along with a mind that speaks the one Word in silent grace.


The text contains the teaching of predestination.


And the will is what the Father rests in and is pleased with. Nothing happens without him, nor does anything happen without the will of the Father, but his will is incomprehensible.


The Apocryphon of John (before 185 AD)

This text is another Gnostic text that shows influence from the Gospel of John. The text shows an interpretation of the historical Jesus.


This Nazarene deceived you with deception and filled your ears with lies and close your hearts and turned you from the traditions of your fathers.


How then was the savior chosen, and why was he sent into the world by this Father, and who is his Father who sent him, and of what sort is that aeon to which we shall go? For what did he mean when he said to us, This aeon to which you will go is of the type of the imperishable aeon, but he did not search us concerning that one of what sort it is.


The text also offers some reflections upon the nature of the relationships within divinity.


I am the Father, I am the Mother, I am the Son, I am the unpolluted and incorruptible one.


The Monad is a monarchy with nothing above it. It is he who exists as God and Father of everything, the invisible one who is above everything, who is imperishability, existing as pure light which no eye can behold.


He has no need of anyone. For he is completely perfect. He is illimitable because there exists no one prior to him to examine him. He is immeasurable because there was no one prior to him to measure him. He is invisible because  no one saw him. He is eternal who exists eternally. He is ineffable because no one could comprehend him to speak about him. He is unmeasurable because there is no one prior to him to name him.


He is an aeon-giving Aeon, life-giving Life, a blessedness-giving Blessed One, knowledge-giving Knowledge, goodness-giving Goodness, mercy and redemption-giving Mercy, grace-giving Grace.


The text offers criticism of the God of Israel as know through the Hebrew Scriptures.


And he is impious in his madness which is in him. For he said, I am God and there is no other God beside me, for he is ignorant of his strength. … Therefore he called himself God. And he did not put his trust in the place from which he came. … he said to them, I M a jealous God and there is no other God beside me. but by announcing this he indicated to the angels who attended to him that there exists another God, for if there were no other one, of whom would he would be jealous? Then the mother began to move an fro.


The text speculates about the creation of the first human beings.


And they said to Yaltabaoth, Blow into his face something of your spirit and his body will arise. … And in that moment the rest of the powers became jealous. … And he sent, through is beneficent Spirit and his great mercy, a helper to Adam, luminous Epipois which comes out of him, who was called Life. And she assists the whole creature, by toiling with him and by resotiring him to his fullness and by teaching him about the descent of his seed and by teaching him about the way of ascent, which is the way he came down. … and the man came forth because of the shadow of the light which is in him. And his thinking was superior to all those who had made him. … And they brought Adam into the shadow of death in order that they might form him again from earth and water and fire and the spirit which originates in matter. … And the Archons took him and placed him in paradise. And they said to him, Eat, that is, at leisure, for their luxury is bitter and their beauty is depraved. And their luxury is deception and their trees are godlessness and their fruit is deadly poison and their promise is death. And the tree of their life they had placed in the middle of paradise. … Ad I said to the savior, “Lord, was it not the serpent that taught Adam to eat?” The savior smiled and said, “The serpent taught them, to eat from wickedness, begetting, lust, and the destruction, that he might be useful to him. … and he brought a forgetfulness over Adam. … And I said to the savior, “What is the forgetfulness?” And he said, “It is not the way Moses wrote and you heard. … And he recognized his counter-image, and he said, ‘This is indeed home from my bones, and flesh from my flesh. Therefore the man will leave his father and his mother and he will cleave to his wife and they will both be one flesh, for the will send him his consort, and he will leave his father and his mother … And our sister Sophia is she who came down in innocence in order to rectify her deficiency. Therefore she was called Life which is the mother of the living.


The text shows concern for the salvation of others.


And I said to the savior, “Lord, will all the souls then be brought safely into the pure light? … Those on whom the Spirit of life will descend and with whom he will be with the power, they will be saved and become perfect and be worthy of the greatnesses and be purified in that place from all wickedness and the involvements in evil. Then they have no other care than the incorruption alone, to which they direct their attention from here on, without anger or envy or jealousy of desire and greed of everything. They are not affected by anything except the state of being in the flesh alone, which they bear while looking expectantly for the time when they will be met by the receivers.


The text describes the way Jesus showed the way to the Light.


I … changed myself into my seed. For I am the richness of the light, I am the remembrance of the pleroma. And I went into the realm of darkness and I endured till I entered the middle of the prison. And the foundations of chaos shook. And I hid myself rom them because eof their wickedness, and they did not recognize me. … Again I returned fro the second time and I went about. I came forth from those who belong to the light. I entered into the middle of darkenss and the inside of Hades. … Still for a third time I went – I am the light which exists in the light. I am the remembrance of the Pronia, that I might enter into the middle of darkness and the inside of Hades. … And I entered into the middle of their prison which is the prison of the body. … Bitter tears he wiped from himself and he said, ‘Who is it that calls my name, and from where has this hope come to me, while I am in the chains of the prison?’

Odes of Solomon, ca 100 AD

                Many scholars consider this text an example of Gnosticism. It may be product of Jewish Christianity between Edessa and Antioch, with the most likely place being Antioch.

            These texts express personal piety.

The Lord is on my head like a crown,

And I shall never be without him.

Your fruits are full and complete;

They are full of your salvation. (Ode 1)


For I should not have known how to love the Lord,

If he had not continuously loved me.

Who is able to distinguish love,

Except him who is loved?

I have been united to him, because the lover has found the Beloved,

Because I love him that is the Son, I shall become a son.

And he who delights in the Life

Will become living.(Ode 3)


You have given to us your fellowship,

Not that you were in need of us,

But that we are always in need of you. (Ode 4)


As the wind moves through the harp

And the strings speak,

So the Spirit of the Lord speaks through my membe3rs,

And I speak through his love.

For he destroys whatever is foreign,

And everything is of the Lord.

So that nothing will be contrary,

And nothing will rise up against him. (Ode 6)


My joy is the Lord and my course is toward him,

This way of mine is beautiful.

He has generously shown himself to me in his simplicity,

Because his kindness has diminished his grandeur. (Ode 7)


And let your serenity, O Lord, abide with me,

and the fruits of your love. (Ode 14)


My art and my service are in his praises,

because his love has nourished my heart,

and his fruits he poured unto my lips.

For my love is the Lord;

hence I shall sing unto him.

I shall open my mouth,

And his spirit will speak through me

the praise of the Lord and his beauty. (Ode 16)


fill for yourselves water from the living spring of the Lord,

because it has been opened for you.

And come all you thirsty and take a drink,

And rest beside the spring of the Lord.

Because it is pleasing and sparkling,

And perpetually pleases the self. (Ode 30)


We live in the Lord by his grace,

And life we receive by his Messiah.

And let our faces shine in his light,

And let our hearts meditate in his love,

By night and by day. (Ode 41)


The text expresses the wonder of the Incarnation.


He became like me, that I might receive him.

In form he was considered like me, that I might put him on.

And I trembled not when I saw him,

Because he was gracious to me.

Like my nature he became, that I might understand him,

And like my form, that I might not turn away from him. (Ode 7)


For the subtlety of the Word is inexpressible,

And like his expression so also is his swiftness and his acuteness,

For limitless is his path.

And from him came love and harmony,

And they spoke one to another whatever was theirs.

For the dwelling place of the Word is humanity,

And his truth is love. (Ode 12)


The text expresses the crucifixion in an interesting way.


And they condemned me when I stood up,

Me who had not been condemned.

Then they divided my spoil,

Thoiugh nothing was owed them.

But I endured and held my peace and was silent,

a\that I might not be disturbed by them.

But I stood undisturbed like a solid rock,

Which is continuously pounded by columns of waves and endures.

And I bore their bitterness because of humility;

That I might save my nation and instruct it.

And that I might not nullify the promises to the patriarchs,

To whom I was promised for the salvation of their offspring. (Ode 31)


The text emphasizes the universality of the message of Christ.


And the gentiles who had been scattered were gathered together,

But I was not defiled by my love for them,

Because they had praised me in high places. (Ode 10)


The text has an interesting expression of the Trinity.


The Son is the cup,

and the Father is he who was milked;

and the Holy Spirit is she who milked him… (Ode 19)


The text also has a reference to the Virgin Mary.


The womb of the Virgin took it,

And she received conception and gave birth.

So the Virgin became a mother with great mercies.

And she labored and bore the Son but without pain,

Because it did not occur without purpose. (Ode 19)


However the perfect Virgin stood,

Who was preaching and summoning and saying:

O you sons of men, return,

And you their daughters, come.

And abandon the ways of that Corruptor,

And approach me.

And I will enter into you,

And bring you forth from destruction,

And make you wise in the ways of truth. (Ode 33)

Ignatius, 100-120 AD

            This author shows many affinities with the Gospel of John. Ignatius wrote between 100 and 120, from the area of Syria.  He had a concern for submission to bishops, presbyters, and deacons as an expression of unity.  He seems to accept the primacy of Rome.  In doctrine, he is opposed to Judaising tendencies and Gnosticism in reference to Jesus' death as only seeming to happen.  He has several references to Jesus coming from God's silence.  In ethical matters, he urges especially gentleness, faith, and love.  He recognizes a "prince of this world" against whom he does battle.  References to unity as a harmony of song are beautiful.  He has a couple of general references to Mary.  General references to baptism and Eucharist.  He views his present movement toward martyrdom, and his present suffering, as a perfecting of his being a disciple.  Continues concern for widows, poor, and orphans.  He urges regular worship.  The Eucharist is the flesh and blood of Jesus.

  To the Ephesians.  Jesus Christ our God....being perfectly joined together in one submission, submitting yourselves to your bishop and presbyters, you may be sanctified in all things....Therefore in your concord and harmonious love Jesus Christ is sung....Jesus is Son of Mary and Son of God....And pray also without ceasing for the rest of humanity (for there is in them a hope of repentance), that they may find God.  Therefore permit them to take lessons at least from your works.  Against their outbursts of wrath you be meek; against their proud words you be humble; against their railings set yourself on prayer; against their errors be steadfast in the faith; against their fierceness you be gentle....For either let us fear the wrath which is to come or let us love the grace which now is--the one or the other; provided only that we be found in Christ Jesus unto true life....None of these things is hidden from you, if you be perfect in your faith and love toward Jesus is the beginning and love is the end....It is better to keep silence and to be, than to talk and not to be...Those that truly possesses the word of Jesus are able also to listen unto God's silence, that they may be perfect....For our God, Jesus the Christ, was conceived in the womb by Mary according to a dispensation, of the seed of David but also of the Holy Spirit; and he was born and was baptized that by his passion he might cleanse water....Assemble yourselves together in common, every one of you severally, person by person, in grace, in one faith and one Jesus Christ, who after the flesh was of David's race, who is Son of Man and Son of God, to the end that you may obey the bishop and the presbyters without distraction of min; breaking one bread, which is the medicine of immortality and the antidote that we should not die but live for ever in Jesus Christ...

  To the Magnesians.  I advise you, be zealous to do all things in godly concord, the bishop presiding after the likeness of God and the presbyters after the likeness of the council of the apostles, with the deacons also who are most dear to me, having been entrusted with the diaconate of Jesus Christ...Let there be nothing among you which shall have power to divide you, but be united with the bishop and with them that preside over you as an example and a lesson of incorruptibility....Jesus Christ God's Son, who is God's Word that proceeded from silence....Therefore let us not be insensible to God's goodness.  For if God should imitate us according to our deeds, we are lost.  For this cause, seeing that we are become disciples of Jesus, let us learn to live as Christians.  For whosoever is called by another name besides this, is not of God. 

  To the Trallians.  Do therefore arm yourselves with gentleness and recover yourselves in faith which is the flesh of the Lord, and in love which is the blood of Jesus Christ....But if it were as certain persons who are godless, that is unbelievers, say, that Jesus suffered only in appearance, being themselves mere appearance, why am I in bonds? 

  To the Romans.  "unto her that has the presidency in the country of the region of the Romans, being worthy of God, worthy of honor, worthy of felicitation, worthy of praise, worthy of success, worthy in purity, and having the presidency of love, walking in the law of Christ and bearing the Father's name...Forming yourselves into a chorus in love you may sing to the Father in Jesus Christ...

  To the Philadelphians.  Be careful therefore to observe one eucharist (for there is one flesh of our Lord Jesus Christ and one cup unto union in his blood; there is one altar, as there is one bishop, together with the presbyters and the deacons my fellow-servants, that whatsoever you do, you may do it after God. 

  To the Smyrnaeans.  I give glory to Jesus Christ the God who bestowed such wisdom upon you; for I have perceived that you are established in faith immovable, being as it were nailed on the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ, in flesh and in spirit, and firmly grounded in love in the blood of Christ, fully persuaded as touching our Lord that he is truly of the race of David according to the flesh, but Son of God by the divine will and power, truly born of a virgin and baptized by John that all righteousness might be fulfilled by him, truly nailed up in the flesh for our sakes under Pontius Pilate and Herod the tetrarch...that he might set up a sign unto all the ages through his resurrection, for his saints and faithful people, whether among Jews or among Gentiles, in one body of his church....Let not office puff up any one; for faith and love are all in all, and nothing is preferred before them....It is not lawful apart from the bishop either to baptize or to hold a love feast.

  To Polycarp.  Tell my sisters to love the Lord and to be content with their husbands in flesh and in spirit.  In like manner also charge my brothers in the name of Jesus Christ to love their wives.  If any one is able to abide in chastity to the honor of the flesh of the Lord, let him or her so abide without boasting.

Apocalyptic Texts

Martyrdom of Isaiah (0-100 AD)

                This text offers its purpose as the following.


The words of the righteous .. and the words concerning the eternal judgments, and the torments of Gehenna, and the prince of this world, and his angels, and his authorites, and his powers, and the words concerning faith in the Beloved which he himself had seen … concerning the judgment of the angels, and concerning the destruction of this world, and concerning the robes of the saints and their going out, and concerning their transformation and the persecution and ascension of the Beloved. 1:3-5


The author speaks under divine inspiration.


As the Lord lives whose name has both been transmitted to this world, and as the Beloved of my Lord lives, and as the Spirit which speaks in me lives … 1:7-9


In the sixth heaven everyone sings praises.


And there they all named the primal Father and his Beloved, Christ, and the Holy Spirit, all with one voice. … 8:18


The text refers to the Incarnation.


Christ, who is to be called in the world Jesus … 9:5


The Lord will indeed descend into the world in the last days, he who is to be called Christ after he has descended and become like you in form, and they will think that he is flesh and a man. And the god of that world will stretch out his hand against the Son, and they will lay their hands upon him and hang him upon a tree, not knowing who he is. … And when he has plundered the angel of death, he will rise on the third day and will remain in that world for five hundred and forty-five days. 9:13-14


And I saw a woman of the family of David the prophet whose name was Mary, and she was a virgin and was betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, a carpenter, and he also was of the seed and family of the righteous David of Bethlehem in Judah. … that Mary then looked with her eyes and saw a small infant, and she was astounded. And after her astonishment had worn off, her womb was found as it was at first, before she had conceived. … And they handed him to the ruler, and crucified him, and he descended to the angel who is in Sheol. In Jerusalem, indeed, I saw how they crucified him on a tree, and likewise how after the third day he rose and remained many days. 11:2, 8, 9, 19-21


The text refers to those people in the seventh heaven. They receive robes.


As for these robes, there are many from that world who will receive them through believing in the words of that one who will be named as I have told you and they will keep them, and believe in them, and believe in his cross … 9:26






II Enoch (0-100 AD)

                The text encourages piety.


Do not turn away from God.

Walk before his face,

And keep his commandments.

Do not abhor the prayers of your salvation …

And do not be ungenerous with the Lord’s gifts …

And bless the Lord with the firstborn of your herds …

And do not turn away from the Lord … 2:2


And may God make your hearts true in reverence for him. 2:3


The text emphasizes the role of ethics.


This place, Enough, has become prepared for the righteous,

                Who suffer every kind of calamity in their life

And who afflict their souls,

And who avert their eyes from injustice,

And who carry out righteous judgment,

And who give bread to the hungry,

And who cover the naked with clothing, and who lift up the fallen.

And who help the injured and the orphans,

And who walk without a defect before the face of the Lord,

And who worship him only. 9:2


They showed me there a very frightful lace; and all kinds of torture and torment are in that place. … This place, Enough, has been prepared for those who do not glorify God, who practice on the earth the sin which is against nature, which is child corruption in the anus in the manner of Sodom, of witchcraft, enchantments, divinations, trafficking with demons, who boast about their evil deeds – stealing, lying insulting, coveting, resentment, fornication, murder – and who steal the souls of people secretly, securing the poor by the throat, taking away their possessions, enriching themselves from the possessions of others, defrauding them; who, when they are able to provide sustenance, bring about the death of the hungry by starvation; and when they are able to provide clothing, take away the last garment of the naked, who do not acknowledge their Creator, but how down to idols which have no souls, which can neither see nor hear, vain gods; constructing images, and bowing down to vile things made by hands – for all these this place has been prepared as an eternal reward. (selections from Chapter 10)


Happy is the person who reverences the name of the Lord. …

Happy is he who carries out righteous judgment.

Happy is he who clothes the naked with his garment. Happy is he who judges righteous judgment for orphans and widow.

Happy is he who turns aside from the secular path of this vain world.

Happy is the he who sows right sdded.

Happy is he in whom is the truth.

Happy ishe who has compassion on his lips and gentleness in his heart!

Happy is he who understands all the works of the Lord. 42:6-14


There is no one better than he who fears God. He will be the most glorious in that age. 43:3


And whoever insults a person’s face, insults the face of a king, and treates the face of the Lord with repugnance.

He who treats with contempt the face of any person treats the face of the Lord with contempt.

Happy is the person who does not direct his heart with malice toward any person, but who helps the offended and the condemned, and lifts up those who have been crushed, and shows compassion on the needy. 44:2-4


Stretch out your hands to the needy in accordance with your strength … Help a believer in affliction, and then affliction will not find you, in your treasures and in the time of your work. 51:1-2


Happy is the person who opens his lips for praise of the God of Sabaoth, and praises the Lord with his whole heart.

Happy is he who opens his lips, both blessing and praising God.

Hearts – who blesses all the works of the Lord.

Happy who looks carefully to the raising up of the works of his own hand.

Happy who preserves the foundations of his most ancient fathers, made firm from the beginning.

Happy who cultivates the love of peace.

Happy is he who even though he does not speak peace with hiss tongue nevertheless in his heart there is peace toward all. 52:1-7


He who does harm to a human soul creates harm for his own soul, and there is for him no healing of his flesh, nor any forgiveness for enemy. 60:1


A person, when he clothes the naked or gives his bread to the hungry, then he will obtain a reward from God. 63:1


Walk, my children,

In long-suffering

In meekness honesty,

In affliction,

In gluttony

In faithlessness

In truth,

In hope,

In weakness

In derision

In assaults,

In temptation

In deprivation,

In nakedness.


Having love for one another, until you go out from this age of suffering, to that you may become inheritors of the never-ending age. 66:6


The text offers this song in prayer:


Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord Sabaoth,

Heaven and earth are full of his glory. 21:2


The text protects the mystery of God in a vision of the 10th heaven.


Thus even I saw the face of the Lord. But the face of the Lord is not be talked about, it is so very marvelous and supremely awesome and supremely frightening. 22:2


The text offers this reflection upon death.


And just as every person has as nature the darkness of the present life, so also he has his conception and birth and departure from this life. In the hour in which he was conceived, in that hour also he is born and in that also he departs. 68:4


The text interprets the presence of Eve in this way.


And I created for him a wife, so that death might come to him by for his wife. 30:17


The text suggests the person does not have intercessor in heaven.


So now, my children do not say, Our father is with God, and to he will stand as from of God for us, and he will pray for us concerning our sins,” for there is no helper there – not even for any one person who has sinned. See how I have written down all the deeds of every person before the creation, ad I am wring down what is done among all persons forever. And on no one can contradict my handwriting: because the Lord sees all the evil thoughts of humanity, how vain they are, where they lie in the treasuries of the heart. 53

Testament of Abraham (0-100 AD)


                The text describes the Abraham in terms of Jewish piety.


Abraham … lived in quietness, gentleness, and righteousness, and the righteous  was very hospitable. For he pitched his tent at the crossroads of the oak of Mamre and welcomed everyone – rich and poor, kings, and rulers, the crippled and the helpless, friends and strangers, neighbors and passerby – all on equal terms did the pious, entirely holy, righteous, and hospitable Abraham welcome. (1:1-3)


I have not seen upon earth a man like him – merciful, hospitable, righteous, truthful, God-fearing, refraining from every evil deed. (4:6)


Yet, the text also finds Abraham proclaiming his unworthiness.


You have thought it altogether worthy yourself to come to me, a sinner and your completely worthless servant. (9:3)


Abraham wants to know the future.


While I am yet in this body I wish to see all the inhabited world and all the created things which you established, master, through one world, and when I have seen these things, then, if I depart from life, I shall have no sorrow. (9:6)


The text expresses the nature of the path toward salvation.


The first way was strait and narrow and the other broad and spacios. … And they saw many souls from being driven by angels and being led through the broad gate, and they saw a few other souls and they were being brought by angels through the narrow gate. (11:2, 5)


And interesting dialogue occurs in Chapter 14, in which Abraham inquires about the judgment of a soul. The soul had an equal balance of righteous and sinful deeds. Abraham discovers that to be saved, one needed to find a righteous deed. Abraham prays. God listens to the prayer and delivers the soul. In chapter 15, Abraham refuses to follow an angle that intends to lead him to his death.

Life of Adam and Eve (65-70 AD)


                This text begins with the repentance of Adam and Eve. Eve takes full responsibility for what has happened. She also accuses Satan of attacking “the image of God,” referring to Adam.


Adam: Let us repent with a great penitence, perhaps the Lord God will be forbearing and pity us and provide for us that we might live.

Eve: My Lord, how much did you intend to repent, since I have brought toil and tribulation on you.

Adam: You are not able to do so much as I; but do as much as you have strength for. I will spend forty days fasting. 4-6


And do not let three words come out of your mouth, for we are unworthy and our lips are not clean. but cry silently in God saying, “O God, be gracious to me.” … and all the angels and all the creatures of God surrounded Adam as a wall around him, weeping and praying to God on behalf of Adam, so that God gave ear to them. Apocalyptic 29:12, 14


Satan: Because of you (Adam) I am expelled and deprived of my glory which I had in the heaven in the midst of angels, and because of you I was cast out onto the earth. 12:1

Adam: “O Lord, my God, my life is in your hands. Remove far from me this my opponent, who seeks to destroy my soul, and give me his glory which he himself has forfeited.” 17

Eve: “My lord, give me a portion of your pain, for this guilt has come to you from me.” 35 “My lord Adam, rise, give me half of your illness and let me bear it, because this has happened to you through me; because of me you suffer troubles and pain.” Apocalyptic 9


Eve: “Cursed beast! How is it that you were not afraid to throw yourself at the image of God, but have dared to attack it? 37 “Woe is me! for when I come to the day of resurrection, all who have sinned will curse me, saying that Eve did not keep the command of God.” Apocalyptic 10

Seth: “Shut your mouth and be silent, and keep away from the image of God until the day of judgment.” Apocalyptic 12


The text defines covetousness as the origin of every sin (Apocalyptic 19:3). Adam describes the Fall.


I knew that I was naked of the righteousness with which I had been clothed. (20:1) And I took the leaves of the fig tree and made for myself skirts; they were from the same plants of which I ate. (20:5) You (Eve) have estranged me from the glory of God. (21:6) All Apocalyptic texts.


They receive the promise of resurrection.


But when you come out of Paradise, if you guard yourself from all evil, preferring death to it, at the time of the resurrection I will raise you again, and then there shall be given to you from the tree of life, and you shall be immortal forever. (Apocalyptic 28:4)


God called Adam and said … “Now I promise to you the resurrection; I shall raise you on the last day in the resurrection with every person of your seed.” (Apocalyptic 41:3)


Adam warns his children.


I have shown you the way in which we were deceived. But you watch yourselves so that you do not forsake the good. (Apocalyptic 30


Eve offers her final words.


God of all, receive my spirit. And immediately she gave up her spirit to God. (Apocalyptic 42:8)

Apocalypse of Abraham 9-32 (70-100 AD)


I will announce to you guarded things and you will see great things which you have not seen, because you desired to search for me, and I called you my beloved. … And there I will show you the things which were made by the ages and by my word, and affirmed, created, and renewed. And I will announce to you in them what will come upon those who have done evil and just things in the race of humanity. (9:6, 9-10)


Know from this that the Eternal One whom you have loved has chosen you. (14:2)


And I saw there the earth and its fruit, and its moving things and its things that had souls, and its host of people and the impiety of their souls and their justification, and their pursuit of their works and the abyss and its torments, and its lower depths and the prediction in it. … And I saw there the garden of Eden and its fruits. (21:3)


The text addresses the matter of theodicy.


And I said, “Eternal, Mighty One, why then did you adjudge him such dominion that through his works he could ruin humankind on earth? … And I answered and said, “Eternal, Mighty One! Why did it please you to bring it about that evil should be desired in the heart of people, because you are angered at what was chosen by you … him who does useless things in your light. (23:12, 14)


The text describes the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD.


And I looked and I saw, and behold the picture swayed. And from its left side a crowd of heathens ran out and they captured the men, women, and children who were on its right side. And some slaughtered and others they kept with them. Behold, I saw them runner to them by way of four ascents and they burned the Temple with fire, and they plundered the holy things that were in it. And I said, “Eternal One, the people you received from me are being robbed by thehordes of the heathen. They are killing some and holding others as aliens, and they burned the Temple with fire and they are stealing and destroying the beautiful things which are in it. Eternal, Might One! If this is so, why now have you afflicted my heart and why will it be so? And he said to me, “Listen, Abraham, afflicted my heart and why will it be so? And he said to me, “Listen, Abraham, all that you have seen will happen on account of your seed who will continually provoke me because of the body which you saw and the murder in what was depicted in the Temple of jealousy, and everything you saw will be so. And I said, “Eternal, Mighty One! Let the evil works done in iniquity now pass by, and make commandments in them more than his just works. For you can do this. And he said to me, “Again the time of justice will come uupon them, at first through the holiness of kings. And I will judge with justice those whom I created earlier, to rule from them in them. And from these same ones will come people who will have regard for them, as I announced to you and you saw. (27)



II Esdras

                II Esdras = IV Ezra 3-14 (90 AD) was composed originally in Hebrew or Aramaic. It stresses God as creator, and especially that God was alone. It also emphasizes that God has one people. It is a book of lamentation, in which the author complains about the oppressions, sufferings, and torments of the people of God. Written in the last decade of the first century, it received its main thrust from events in the Vespasian and Domitian period, 69-96. Christianity claimed to be a new Israel. It offered an eschatological interpretation of the times. In particular, it preached the imminent and sudden return of Christ as both savior and judge and the end of the world. II Esdras offers a Jewish interpretation of the times. The outward thrust of the Christian movement capitalized on the catastrophe while Jewish communities engaged in self-examination and an inventory of their religious resources. For II Esdras, the end of the age was not far off. The world was already old and senile. The messianic age of four hundred years was at hand, at whose end a period of primeval silence would ensue, after which a new creation would come.

                The author wrestles with the reality of sin and the fact of corruption, and endeavors to comprehend the will of God for the world and the people of God. Esdras realizes that the misfortunes suffered by the people of God were due to the evil heart in humanity. That is why the wants to know why the evil heart was allowed to remain in humanity so that the law had no apparent effect on the transformation of humanity. That was the besetting problem of the rabbis in the first century AD. A good example is the following set of reflections from the first vision.


2 Esdras 3:13 (NRSV)

13 And when they were committing iniquity in your sight, you chose for yourself one of them, whose name was Abraham;

2 Esdras 3:20-22 (NRSV)

20 “Yet you did not take away their evil heart from them, so that your law might produce fruit in them. 21 For the first Adam, burdened with an evil heart, transgressed and was overcome, as were also all who were descended from him. 22 Thus the disease became permanent; the law was in the hearts of the people along with the evil root; but what was good departed, and the evil remained.

2 Esdras 3:30-31 (NRSV)

30 because I have seen how you endure those who sin, and have spared those who act wickedly, and have destroyed your people, and protected your enemies, 31 and have not shown to anyone how your way may be comprehended. Are the deeds of Babylon better than those of Zion?

2 Esdras 3:34-36 (NRSV)

34 Now therefore weigh in a balance our iniquities and those of the inhabitants of the world; and it will be found which way the turn of the scale will incline. 35 When have the inhabitants of the earth not sinned in your sight? Or what nation has kept your commandments so well? 36 You may indeed find individuals who have kept your commandments, but nations you will not find.”

2 Esdras 4:12 (NRSV)

12 and said to him, “It would have been better for us not to be here than to come here and live in ungodliness, and to suffer and not understand why.”

2 Esdras 4:22-25 (NRSV)

22 Then I answered and said, “I implore you, my lord, why have I been endowed with the power of understanding? 23 For I did not wish to inquire about the ways above, but about those things that we daily experience: why Israel has been given over to the Gentiles in disgrace; why the people whom you loved has been given over to godless tribes, and the law of our ancestors has been brought to destruction and the written covenants no longer exist. 24 We pass from the world like locusts, and our life is like a mist, and we are not worthy to obtain mercy. 25 But what will he do for his name that is invoked over us? It is about these things that I have asked.”


We find the same kind of challenging questions in the second vision.


2 Esdras 5:29-30 (NRSV)

29 And those who opposed your promises have trampled on those who believed your covenants. 30 If you really hate your people, they should be punished at your own hands.”

2 Esdras 5:33-34 (NRSV)

33 Then I said, “Speak, my lord.” And he said to me, “Are you greatly disturbed in mind over Israel? Or do you love him more than his Maker does?”

34 I said, “No, my lord, but because of my grief I have spoken; for every hour I suffer agonies of heart, while I strive to understand the way of the Most High and to search out some part of his judgment.”

2 Esdras 5:38 (NRSV)

38 I said, “O sovereign Lord, who is able to know these things except him whose dwelling is not with mortals?

2 Esdras 5:43 (NRSV)

43 Then I answered and said, “Could you not have created at one time those who have been and those who are and those who will be, so that you might show your judgment the sooner?”

2 Esdras 5:48-49 (NRSV)

48 He said to me, “Even so I have given the womb of the earth to those who from time to time are sown in it. 49 For as an infant does not bring forth, and a woman who has become old does not bring forth any longer, so I have made the same rule for the world that I created.”


The third vision also puzzles about the power of sin.


2 Esdras 7:116-117 (NRSV)

46 116 I answered and said, “This is my first and last comment: it would have been better if the earth had not produced Adam, or else, when it had produced him, had restrained him from sinning. 47 117 For what good is it to all that they live in sorrow now and expect punishment after death? 48


The eagle vision concerns the Roman Empire, whose insignia was an eagle. The three heads stand for the three Flavian emperors, Vespasian as the middle head, Domitian to the right, and Titus to the left. The twelve wings also stand for Roman emperors, but which ones is not certain. The one who ruled longer than any of the others probably Augustus. The one before it then must have been Caesar. It is possible that the twelve wings include the generally accepted rulers from Caesar to Domitian, that is, Caesar, Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula, Cladius, Nero, Galba, Otho, Vitellius, Vespasian, Titus, and Domitian. The lion is the messiah who will be revealed at the end.


New Testament Morality and Ethics

            Morality names a dimension of life, a pervasive and only partly conscious set of value-laden dispositions, inclinations, attitudes, and habits. We understand the process of the formation of morals when we see them as part of the web of relationships that shape distinctive communities. Therefore, morality is not a private affair. In contrast, ethics is a reflective, second-order activity that reflects upon morality that a community already practices. It asks about the logic of moral discourse and action, about the grounds for judgment, about the anatomy of duty or the roots and structure of virtue.

            Moral dilemmas arise as people have different starting points in their reasoning. Their vision of what is moral differs. The differences connect with their differing personal histories, the differing traditions in which they stand, and the differing circumstances that shape their lives.

            The influential perspective of Aristotle may help. He did not think one could persuade people to be good by rational argument. A person becomes virtuous by training, by forming good habits. One phrase that had become cliché in Greek philosophy was that habit makes character. He was among the first to analyze the educative function of communal practice in the formation of virtue. To develop a virtuous character, a child had to grow up within a moral and educative community. Individuals become moral agents in relationships, in transactions, in the habits and reinforcements, in the special uses of language and gesture that together constitute life in community. Morality is an integral part of the culture of a community. I want to explore the moral dimension of the subculture expressed in the texts of the New Testament seen within the larger context of the Roman Empire. We can do this to some degree from a holistic perspective. We exist in webs of significance that we have spun. Religion has fulfilled one of its major tasks when it pictures a world in which proper conduct as it understands it makes common sense to its members.

            First, we need to consider the moral dimension of conversion in the early church. Becoming a Christian means something like the experience of an immigrant who leaves his or her native land and then assimilates to the culture of a new, adopted homeland. They thought of themselves as those who had turned their lives around, from one state to another profoundly better. Such a transfer of allegiances and transformation of mores requires re-socialization. We must take seriously the fact that they depict themselves a movement of converts. Reminders of the boundaries between the old world and the new are a constant element in early Christian moral exhortation. We need to consider the extent to which this language of conversion corresponds to realities of social experience. Converts create retrospective stories of their own conversions that help them become at home in the new group or movement. Their identity and relation to the new group and to former groups are transformed by making the story follow a pattern accepted by the group. Each new story by a convert reinforces the group model, and may enlarge or modify that model. One type of conversion is from deviance to becoming a model citizen. This involves the rescue and restoration of the deviant. We find certain metaphorical contrasts in early Christian literature: slave and free; asleep and wakened; drunk and sobered, blind and seeing; stupid and understanding, captive and released. One can even think of this as a turning to oneself, as if to one’s natural state. This type of conversion restores the individual. Another type of conversion is one in which one turns from the norms of society and become part of a committed sect. We find both types of conversion in the New Testament. We can note the tension between abhorrence of the perversion of the world and the longing for the wholeness of the world. In the first century, conversion was the business of philosophy. It sought this turning through its teaching and persuasion. In fact, we find little evidence that adherence to the pagan religious sects of the day involved moral transformation. Normally, the conversion story, partially because it needed to be brief, emphasizes the instantaneous nature of the turn. However, significant change rarely occurs so easily or suddenly. In I Thessalonians, Paul stresses the pressure the converts have experienced from their neighbors, he stresses the strong ties they have with the apostle and with each other, and he draws a clear line between insiders and outsiders. Given the teaching of virtue by the philosophers, we know Paul exaggerates here, but it stresses the Jewish connection with belief in one God, one humanity, and the social boundaries determined by their turning in life. Baptism became the ritual of this turn in life. When we focus upon this dimension of conversion, it begins to have more the character of detachment from the norms of pagan culture and adhering to the norms approved by the new movement. Moral scrutiny of candidates for baptism serves to anchor the process of moral re-education. Paul continually reminded his readers of the implications of their baptism.

            Second, we need to consider the moral dimension of the city and households in which early Christians lived their lives. The city was the primary frame of reference for intellectuals of the day. Diaspora Judaism created distinctive communities that faced assimilation and identity in a different way than the Christian communities of the New Testament. The neighborhoods, streets, and households of the city provided the context for the rapid growth of Christianity. They rubbed shoulders and did business with citizens and fellow residents in these cities. Christians felt at home and alien in these cities. In Aristotle, the household was the primary school of morality, and the city was secondary. One learned friendship, power, protection, submission, honor, and duty. Honor and shame were in the context of elaborate praise by other citizens of the city. Jews established largely separate communities and developed their own culture of honor and shame, one that Gentiles looked upon with some admiration and much suspicion. Paul refers to the collection of converts as an assembly or ekklesia. The social ambiguity of this situation is that Paul depended upon an already established social system of households and voluntary associations, while at the same time forming assemblies throughout the city that must continually resist honor and shame perspectives of the city. They became immigrants by their conversion, separating from the larger city. Conversion implies a change of reference groups and reference individuals. These groups and persons are the ones to whom we look for standards, approval, and measures of how ell we are doing. Christians continued to honor public officials and led lives that sought acceptability among the citizens of the city. If Christian behavior is to persuade by good works ( I Peter 2:12), the moral norms of the Christians cannot be much different from those of outsiders. Paul will recommend the common philosophical list of directives to households to his own converts.

            Third, we need to consider the moral dimension of early Christian love of the world and hatred of the world. This small group believes that the actions of its members take their meaning from a cosmic process. Paul could speak of the god of this world, the elements of the cosmos, and rulers of this age. Yet, his experience of the world is broader and more complex than that of John. The term “world” refers to human world, society, culture. The antithesis he asserts is between cultural values and the values implicit in the action of God in the world. The Pastoral Epistles maintain this ambiguity of worldly and unworldly position, but emphasize adopting the commonsense universe of popular morality. John could speak of the Logos coming to the world, and the world rejecting the Logos. This meant the experience of rejection and alienation from the world and solidarity with each other in faith and love. The vision of loving the world that God loves did not come into their practice of Christian life. Groups of Gnostic Christians viewed salvation as disconnection from the world. The tension is whether the Christian will do battle against the world or participate in its transformation.

            Fourth, we need to consider the moral dimension of the language of obligation. Lists of vices and virtues were common in the Greek and Roman culture, and the Christian list is not distinctive in this regard. The lists of Paul are not typically in a specific theological context.

            Here is a list of individual vices found in eighteen lists in various parts of the New Testament listed by Wayne Meeks:


Abusive language














False witness



God haters










Inventors of evil




Male prostitutes (malakoi)


Mischief maker




Rebellious toward parents





Silly talk


Sodomites arsenokoitai




Vulgar talk



In the development of such lists, the danger already exists for branding outsiders as evil and insiders as holy. It was easy for Christians in the second century to develop the notion of the two paths, one of vice and the other virtue. Generally, the New Testament frames these lists in simple rule language, a direct imperative expressing actions one should imitate or avoid. However, the theological context of the offensive crucifixion of the Son of God and the resurrection of Jesus by God became a metaphor of patient transformation. It became a pattern by which a way of life, a claim of authority, an assertion of value. The honor that counts is that received at the end of age from God, rather than the honor that comes from the present age that passes away. As a result, the virtue of humility experienced transformation in Christian hands. The offense of the cross brought humility in the context of the world. The pervasive norms of honor and shame, norms determinative of a well-lived life, undergo some transformation in Christian community.

            Fifth, we need to consider the grammar of Christian practice. We need to explore whether a peculiar social practice or set of social practices characterize the Christian movement. Social practice provides the arena in which people exhibit the virtues and in terms of which virtues receive their primary definition. Virtues are embedded in social practices and point toward ways of achieving goods internal to those practices. I want to discuss the kinds of social practice that shaped, reinforced, and gave meaning to the moral sensibilities of the early Christians. This means we pay attention to ritual as paradigmatic practice. Baptismal instruction suggests Christians are unique persons in society and yet are to submit to every human institution. New Testament reminders of baptism connect to personal behavior and communal behavior. Conversion means turning from idolatry and toward the true God and behavior worthy of God. The New Testament makes the same type of connection with the Eucharist, hymns, speech, fasting, healing, ecstatic speech, and so on. This connection between ritual and morality was not common in the first century, for moral instruction was the property of philosophical schools. In a time when itinerant preaching was important, hospitality was an important virtue to cultivate in the Christian community. Christian life is participation in the world passing away and in the new world coming. Christian practice habituates itself and communicates its sense of life. Christian living is essentially communal. Christian practices are not confined to sacred occasions and sacred locations, but were integral to the formation of communities with a distinctive self-awareness.

            Sixth, we need to consider the enemies of morality or virtue under the concept of evil. What are the things that stand against being good? Early Christians lived in a world filled with demons, power and magic, and a choice to make between the kingdom of Satan and the kingdom of God. Early Christians also lived in a world dominated by sin, where there would be universal judgment that called individuals today to repent. They sought protection from evil and sin through Christian community.

            Seventh, we need to consider the moral dimension of the body as the place where the moral contest of life must take place. One experienced many joys through the body, but the body also seems to have a mind of its own. In the first century, life was harsh enough without moving toward asceticism. By raising Jesus from the dead, God promised renewal of the body in eternity. The human predicament is the result of sin, not simply its physical nature. Gnostic Christians turned the body into an enemy of the spiritual life.

            Eighth, we need to consider a life worthy of God. The intersection of theology and ethics in early Christian texts is different from those made by pagan moralists. Talk about God interacts with talk about behavior. Early Christians desired sought to discern the will of God. The desire to do the will of God suggests certain things about the character of God. Early Christians also appealed to revealing the action of God.

            Ninth, we need to consider the moral dimension of the sense of the world ending had for the early Christians. Christian life moves toward a final act, a summing up and judgment, that lies entirely in the hands of God and in the time God determines. Contemplation of that end will make good persons better and will restrain those inclined toward evil. Such expectations undermine the cultural system that exists in the realm of common sense. Relativizing the cultural world was an important step in the Christian relationship with culture.

            Tenth, we need to consider the moral life as a story with a plot that has implications for humanity and the universe. Christianity calls each individual to be a character in a story, a story from which virtue and individual receive their meaning. Narrative is essential to proper moral reasoning. In order for moral discourse to be coherent and successful, it must be narrative. Human life itself has a narrative quality. We tell stories. The Christian story begins with creation, and continues with the promises of God to Israel. It continues with the sending of the Son of God, his life, his shameful crucifixion, and his resurrection, the impartation of The Spirit, the creation of the church, and the continuing of history toward its fulfillment and wholeness in Christ at the end of history.

            The cultural setting of the New Testament did not give its writers and leaders an opportunity to work out a Christian social ethic. For that, we should be grateful. The probability is that they would have laid down rules for social institutions that would not work in different cultures or other historical periods. However, I would like to suggest some reflections that are only suggestive of Christian social ethic, for that is all that New Testament ethical discourse can ever be.

            The New Testament presents a communal ethic (against Niebuhr). We understand the bible out of the cultural context we live and out of the specific religious community that influences us. The saints of the church, the office holders of the church, the ritual and worship of the church, and eventually the traditions of the church, shape how we approach the biblical text. In that sense, the question of how one uses the bible for ethical and moral reflection is out of place. We already have an approach when we engage in such reflection. The bible is public text, and thus someone not formed a Christian community can read it with profit. However, apart from a community, many dimensions of the bible close themselves off to the reader.

            By community, I mean that individualism as understood by some modern Enlightenment thinkers was not an option in the first century. The Sermon on the Mount becomes an impossible ethical ideal only for those who isolate themselves from a community that seeks to live by it. Jesus intended his commitment to love of enemies and non-violence for the real world in which he lived and for the real people to whom he preached and with whom he lived. In the context of the Roman Empire, where Judaism often gave itself to violent resistance to Rome, Jesus saw the hopelessness of this strategy. Further, he witnessed the relative success of a non-violent uprising among peasants that forced Pilate into concessions. His ethic was one that encouraged oppressed Judaism to consider doing what it could to get along with such an oppressive force. In one sense, survival was at stake. However, he also recognized the need for Judaism to separate the will and purpose of God from land, Torah, and Temple, and this further separated him from the need to defend politically, militarily, and economically entities that no longer represented the will and purpose of God. Later, Paul adopted this principle in the cities of the Roman Empire by forming communities that centered their life together in an ethic of love. Household rules did not reject the hierarchical arrangement and thus accepted husband, parent, and master as in a superior position. Paul did not call for political, economic, or political revolution. Rather, he demonstrated concern for the abuse of power and encouraged those in power to be like Christ in his love. The list of vice and virtue contains nothing with which Greek and Roman philosophers could not agree. The point is Christians are to do what they can to get along. The point is simple: the moral demands of Jesus and of Paul are quite applicable to a faithfully lived human life. Jesus and Paul designed their ethic to deal with the specific moral dilemmas of their time.

            Anyone who denies that the ethic of the New Testament did not have the intention of shaping human life runs the risk of a docetic Christology, for one wonders then if Jesus lived a human life, or somehow lived a transcendent or divine life, God walking on earth, so to speak.

            This suggests (against Barth) that the role of the bible in the formation of Christian life must consider the specific and narrative character of the text. As the canon of the church, the bible relates a story of the saving, healing, reconciling, history of the dealings of God with humanity. Even the Ten Commandments are part of the story of the people of God. The specificity of this narrative to its context always needs consideration as we seek faithfulness to God in our specific and narrative situation today. Christians today do not have the luxury of pointing to rule in the bible and automatically applying the rule to a situation today. Rather, such rules and stories provide opportunity for reflection, combining dialogue with tradition and with one’s own cultural setting. I grant that this approach runs the risk of substituting personal whims and wishes for the will of God. However, if one listens carefully to the text, such a result is not necessary. This position also avoids the attempt to define beforehand what one ought to do in certain situations. To re-emphasize, ethical and moral reflection arise out of specific situations and relationships, and within a cultural context, in which a rule in the bible does not determine beforehand the result of ethical decision-making.

            I suspect that some form of consequentialism (consistent with Niebuhr) in ethical reflection is important for Christians living in a human world. Christians need to consider the practical implications of their behavior in the context of the social world in which they live. Christian ethics will look quite differently in 21st century America than in 21st century Assyria, North Korea, or China. The point is that morality and ethics arise out of the social interactions that people have in the various settings in which those interactions occur. The hope, of course, is that as one reads the New Testament one will find inspiration to move toward Christ-like ideals, recognizing that in the ambiguities of human life together we may make choices in which history proves us on the wrong side. We cannot know in advance the rightness of our course of action. We make the best judgment we can, with the apostolic witness, the Spirit, the Christian tradition, and the Christian community providing the context of our reflections.

            One example of ethical reflection in the context of community is that of the practical use of violence. The sixth commandment, “You shall not kill,” appears absolute. The value of human life as made in the image of God, and as having its source in the life-giving Spirit of God, is a clear biblical principle. Yet, God also commands killing in particular circumstances in the Old Testament. The example of Ananias and Saphira is a puzzling New Testament example. Soldiers in the New Testament who respond to the gospel do not receive the command to get out of the military. Yet, this command did become necessary in the second century. Romans 13:4 says that government has the right to wield sword. The circumstantial fact that the New Testament does not recommend violence results from the fact that no Christian in this period had the responsibility of governing. I see no reason to suggest that Paul would take the sword out of the hand of the Christian who did accept the responsibility of governing. His counsel, based upon other passages, would be that such a Christian not abuse the power of sword. Sadly, history is full of Christians who have abused that power.

            Based upon what I have suggested, in a cultural setting different from that of the New Testament, a popular uprising against dictatorship may be a reasonable and just response in that setting. Further, if a Christian lives in a society that allows the church to exist and witness freely to what God has done in Christ, and therefore allows other freedoms economically and politically, a responsible participant in such a social order will also recognize the need to defend institutional life. In other words, our sense of justice on behalf of others, our love for neighbors, and so on, may lead us as Christians to make the choice of temporary violence in order to achieve advancement in justice and humanitarian principles. In saying this, I recognize that most wars and revolutions arise from the desire for power, empire, and wealth. The primary role of the church in these matters is to stress the horrendous nature of all violence. Violence is contrary to the future God desires for humanity. Anyone who approaches war with optimistic illusions has not seriously considered the depravity and ambiguity of human life together. Every war and every revolution is an affirmation of the New Testament reminder of the structural nature of sin embedded in the human condition. I also recognize that, on occasion, war and revolution are reasonable decisions for the sake of better future for humanity, and not just the nations involved. The difficulty that many Christians have is that living historically and meaningfully means getting our hands dirty with the ambiguities of human decision-making.

            Christians often need to make choices between the lesser of two or more evils. Introducing absolute moral ideals into a human world is a luxury for ascetics, hermits, and those who drop out of human culture. It may also be a luxury for those who live in academia in America. Pacifism is an attempt to introduce an absolute rule in a world governed by relativity, ambiguity, and painful choices. Pacifism attempts to pre-determine every choice involving the potential positive use of violence by saying no. yet, pacifism may result in the loss of human life on a massive scale. It may result in massive injustice, given the growth of technology in war-making today. The difficult choice that responsible citizens who are also Christian must make is whether particular wars and revolutions stand the test of advancing basic humanitarian aims.

            We find the ambiguous nature of such choices in the expression of our sexuality. Paul makes it clear that the body is temple of the Holy Spirit. Christians have a calling to glorify God in the body. For the Christian community, the choice of sexual partners is not a matter solely of private whim. The deification of sexual expression is not something that the Christian community can accept. The body of Christ is to leave any form of sexual immorality behind. The concern Paul is for the witness of the church. A post-Christian society could move in another direction based on the right of privacy. This is not an option for the body of Christ.

            Marriage takes place in the context of Christian community and is part of Christian witness. Christian couples are accountable to the community in which they worship for the quality of their marriage. The same is true when difficulty arises. The norm for the Christian witness of marriage is life-long partnership.

            Homosexuality is not a topic of much discussion in the bible. Where it does so, it is always a matter of prohibition. In particular, homosexuality moves against what God ordained at creation as the proper sexual expression, namely, between male and female.

            Another center for ethical reflection rooted in the New Testament is the ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. The Christian teaching of Incarnation suggests that in Christ we find the fulfillment of what God intended for humanity. In particular, the New Testament takes seriously the cross and its implications both for who Christ is and for whom Christians ought to be. The sense in which he is a norm for Christian behavior and community today is important for us to consider.

            The ministry of Jesus takes place in the context of the offense he gave to Jewish leaders, zealots, and Roman officials. He rejected purity laws, he made the specific rules of the Torah relative to love toward God and neighbor, he rejected the abiding significance of the Temple, and he sought separation between God and the Promised Land. Given Roman occupation of the land, and their willingness to use coercive force for their ends, he counseled non-violence as a way for Jews to get along with Roman authorities. We can understand his trial and death from a variety of perspectives. He willingly and courageously faced death as righteous martyr, fulfilling the role of the suffering servant in Isaiah 53. He never considered violence as an option, even with the prospect of violence done to him. The significance of this innocent man suffering at the hands of a political power is another example of the brutal nature of human life together. His suffering and death represent his faithfulness to the will and purpose of God. At the same time, many people die in this way because they are criminals of some sort, living in disobedience and to established social norms. The resurrection of Jesus removes this ambiguity from his death. He offered his life as a service to others, and in this case, that service meant death. As the incarnation of the Son, his death signifies that God has accepted taken sinful and alienated humanity into the love of God, demonstrating to all the gracious love God has by forgiving even this horrendous act of rejecting the Son.

            The goal of Christian living or the church is not to imitate Jesus or the apostolic life. Neither Jesus nor the apostles are the “norm” of Christian ethic. Such a view would seek an absolute foundation in a human world, a position questionable from the beginning. This view is another form of moral reasoning that attempts to pre-empt the process of discernment in specific situations. It is an attempt to deny the role of practical reason in ethical reflection. Such an appeal to absolute foundation that one accepts as revelatory in some way will find adherents. However, it also closes off discussion. The reason is simple. Later generations face a different set of options than were open to Jesus and the early church. An act of love for God and for others led Stephen and James to accept martyrdom. Most of the martyrs of the early centuries of the church share that distinction. I would also suggest that act of love for God and others that led many Christians to abandon their pacifism in order to remove slavery from America. In another setting, non-violent resistance led to the liberation of India through Gandhi and the advancement of civil rights through Martin Luther King, Jr. One might also suggest that act of love for God, for oneself, and for others led to the destruction of Nazi Germany.  Different situations call for different responses from responsible citizens who participate in the benefits of the society in which they live. I do not find it persuasive for Christians to receive the benefits of freedom and material comfort on the one hand, and then refuse any responsibility for the defense of those benefits on the other. I grant that ascetics and Amish-like communities do have that rational right, for they genuinely reject what many Americans consider as benefits of being American.

            I think it is important to emphasize that both Jesus and the apostolic community represent a relatively peaceful attempt to form human community. They formed a visible and structured fellowship, a sober decision guaranteeing that the costs of commitment to the fellowship have been consciously accepted, and a clearly defined life-style distinct from that of the crowd. This life-style is different because of the exceptionally normal quality of humanness to which the community is committed. The distinctness is a non-conformed quality of involvement in the life of the world. Such a fellowship will always present a challenge to the social world in which it is embedded, as well as find places of cooperation and encouragement. It envisions a new possibility of human, social, and political relationships. Yet, neither Jesus nor the apostolic community has the role of being a foundation for the church throughout the ages. The reason is the contingency of human life. Facing new situations, in a different social world, one may actually move against Jesus by doing what Jesus in a legalistic way.

            Among the norms of our ethical reflection as modern persons who also seek to be Christian, I would think we would consider the worth and dignity of individuals and the importance of social institutions honoring individuality. Freedom in pursuit of economic, moral, and intellectual well-being would be significant. Respect for the opinions of others in the form of tolerance and pluralism is another important norm. The freedom of science to explore and implement would be another important norm. All of this suggests that the social order is provisional. We do yet know the end of such a process.

            I do not find it persuasive that all forms of social and cultural organizations represent principalities and powers dominated by evil forces. Those who want to overthrow present social institutions, through either violence or pacifism, have their own idolatry of social institutions. I am not that pessimistic about human nature or the human attempt to create a social world that is increasingly humane, peaceful, just, and improves the daily life of most of its citizens. I would suggest that the human struggle social life results in some forms of social institution that have some respect for the worth and dignity of individuals. Christianity has a role in reminding every culture of the value of every individual, even when individuals misuse their freedom in self-destructive ways. If one lives in such a culture, it is an act of love for God, for oneself, for neighbor, and for future generations, to defend such a country. I suggest that Christians living in places like South Korea, Japan, Australia, Canada, USA, Europe, and I assume others, live in such countries. Part of responsible citizenship is to refuse to live off the life and blood others are willing to spill for one’s own freedom to be pacifist.

            Sadly, some people have used the cross and the responsibility of Christians to take up their cross in discipleship as a way of declaring to the world the divinity (?) of suffering itself. The cross does not make suffering divine. The cross does not mean the renunciation of benevolent uses of power. During World War II, over 300 American died every day. After the war, the remnant of Nazi Germany continued shooting at and killing American soldiers for four years. This war was costly to America in every way. Yet, today Europe is free of Nazi tyranny and Jewish people do not have to live with that threat. Even Japan, a nation whose history knew only imperialism, now lives peacefully with its neighbors. The Cold War lasted 40 years. It cost American lives in Korea and Vietnam, and led to a terrible arms race. Yet, the Soviet Union is gone, Russia is free, and Eastern Europe is free. For some Christians, if they would have had their pacifist way, people would still liver under the yoke of Marxism-Leninism and Nazism. I do not find this a loving act, toward God, toward oneself, toward our neighbors, or toward the best future for humanity.

            The church, as representing the body of Christ in the world, does not have the tools to become an alternative community or culture. It does not have the institutional structure to provide the kind of model that a nation needs to embed humanitarian principles like intellectual freedom, pluralism, economic vitality, political freedom, and so on. Rather, church continues to wrestle within its various cultural contexts to live out the life it finds in Christ, in his ministry, death, and resurrection. The answers at which Christians arrive in one cultural setting may be quite different in another.

            Christian discipleship takes the form of service to others in the form of the cross. We cannot avoid the costly nature of discipleship.

            One example of this cost the difficulties most couples experience at some point in their life together. From the perspective of the cross, these difficulties and challenges may represent genuine bearing of the cross of discipleship for the sake of Christian witness. Unfortunately, some partners in a marriage understand this in a way that makes them martyrs in a less drastic sense than losing their lives. They experience whatever tragedy their marriage presents them in the spirit of bearing the cross, and in the process deny to themselves the possibility of the life-giving power of the Spirit. Nothing can remove the weight of proper discernment in the specific situation of the marriage that the couple experiences. However, the support and accountability of the worshipping community can provide the opportunity for the marriage to become the life-fulfilling intention that God has for the marriage. When Christian couples isolate themselves from the community as they go through difficulties is to cut themselves off from the source of important strength beyond themselves.

            Homosexuality is an expression of rebellion against the natural sexual order, as Paul makes clear in Romans 1. He also makes it clear in Romans 2 that anyone who judges homosexuality (and many other sins) already stands under judgment. Both are the object of the love God shown in the cross. Both have the possibility of receiving the life-giving power of the Spirit. The structure of sin embedded in humanity that Paul makes clear suggests that sin is never purely voluntary. At the same time, the cross and resurrection make it unthinkable that the past binds one to previous sins, whether those sins be homosexuality or the prideful judgment of homosexuality. Grace and hope always have a place in Christian ethical reflection in such matters.

            A third image that might help the church to reflect on ethical matters is that of the new creation. This image involves a transfer of lordship to Christ. It suggests a new orientation of one’s life to what God intends. This means that individually and corporately, the church embodies the future that God has shown in Christ. Christians are responsible today for the story they make of their lives, and will need to give an account of that story to God. The same is true for humanity. The church is a sign of the future toward which God leads humanity. In light of the connection to this hope, individuals and church can act in courageous in principled ways.

            At the same time, the provisional nature of this new creation as embodied in the church and individual reality is a reality. The new creation shows itself in Christian discipleship and communal life; it also has a fractured embodiment in the present.

            In one sense, this new creation does not distinguish itself much from non-Christians. The use of household rules and the lists of vices and virtues reflect cultural patterns of the day. In the same way, I suspect many Christians over-reach in thinking that Christian politics should distinguish itself from non-Christian politics. That option was not open to either Jesus or Paul. The church did not have the option until the fourth century. The politically active church did not develop new economic or political structures. It accepted the Roman and the feudal system, although through its influence it sought to curb the abuses of the power inherent in the system. My suspicion is that this is the best the church can do on a political scale. Rather than a Christian political or economic program, the best the church can hope for is to help humanize the social system that is open to such influence from the church. The harsh modern reality is that Marxist-Leninist and Muslim fundamentalist political organization is simply not open to that influence. The reality is that democratic institutions have remained continually open to that influence.

            Among the ways the church and individuals live out this new life in the light of the future is as a community of peace. I say this, knowing that the church is a fractured body of people, often taking up arms against each other, as well as against non-Christians. This tragic history reminds us of the failure of Christians to use power in a benevolent way. Christians abuse the power of the sword, taking up arms against legitimate governments in wars of liberation, and oppressing people on the margins of society. However, the fact that human beings use power in an abusive way does not omit the possibility that one can also use it in a legitimate way. This interpretation is the only way one can make sense of the counsels of Paul to live peaceably with all, as well as his reminder that the government has the right to use the sword.

            The church is a community called to embody the love of God. One of the ways the community does this is through celebrating Christian marriage. Marriage is difficult. A man and a woman building their life together is a great challenge. A successful marriage brings great joy and peace. It requires patience, mutual support, and disciplined fidelity. Even the most successful marriages often go through periods when they have experienced the fragility of the promise of marriage. Marriage for the Christian is not simply a private matter, based upon romantic feeling. Rather, marriage is a dimension of Christian discipleship. Permanent monogamous marriage is the norm. Yet, the New Testament seems to accept allowances of this norm, in spite of the probability that Jesus issued an absolute prohibition on divorce and allowed no re-marriage. Pastoral considerations led the church to an exception clause, that of porneia that involves some form of sexual immorality. Paul provides an exception in the case of an unbelieving spouse leaving the believer. Pastoral considerations such as these could legitimately extend to abusive relationships. The point, however, is that in a post-Christian culture, Christians and the church have a unique calling to embody a love that moves beyond merely private considerations and considers the witness of the church in a world hungering for loving relationships.

            Those who struggle with homosexuality do so in the Christian community in light of the new creation and the transformation it promises. The struggle is to live faithfully in the present, awaiting the redemption of the body. To demand liberation in the present is a childish response to the promise of God. Rather, live faithfully in the midst of struggle and temptation recognizes the costly nature of this form of discipleship.

            The question we need to face ethically is whether the pattern of suffering at the hands of others is an ethical norm that God has established for the church and for individual Christians. Does accepting the cross as an act of discipleship mean that in all situations, Christians must accept suffering violence at the hands of those in power? In one sense, the martyrdom of Stephen, James, and many others in later centuries might suggest this conclusion. We do not find in the early period of the church any basis for the church or individual Christians to react violently to violence. The conclusion appears inescapable that when the situation confronts the Christian with violent self-defense or suffering and death, the Christian must always accept the second option. In this case, one views the world ruled by principalities and powers in rebellion against God. These powers seek to rule individual and corporate life as an oppressive force. The ministry and death of Jesus are his refusal to submit to those powers. Jesus fought these powers by submitting to suffering and death and showing a peaceful course of life. The responsibility of the church and individual Christians becomes living out this peaceful life, unmasking all governmental authority for what they are – oppressive forces of evil. The church becomes an alternative community to the prevailing pattern of culture, providing a peaceful option, a bubble of peace, if you will, in the midst of a world ruled by violence, evil, and the coercive use of power. The life of the church demonstrates this peaceful way to others. Jesus becomes a definitive norm for Christians in all cultures and all historical periods, removing the ambiguity of decision-making with the non-violent rule of the life of Jesus.


Albert Schweitzer, The Mysticism of Paul the Apostle, 1931.

Luke T. Johnson, The Writings of the New Testament: An Interpretation, 1986.

Russell Pregeant, Engaging the New Testament: An Interdisciplinary Introduction, 1995.

Wayne A. Meeks, The First Urban Christians: The Social World of the Apostle Paul, 1983; The Origins of Christian Morality, 1993.

Nicholas Thomas Wright, Christian Origins and the Question of God: Vol I: The New Testament and the People of God, 1992.

Bultmann, Rudolf, Theology of the New Testament, 1951.

Oscar Cullmann, The Johannine Circle: Its Place in Judaism, among the disciples of Jesus, and in early Christianity, 1975.

John Dominic Crossan, The Historical Jesus: The Life of a Mediterranean Jewish Peasant, 1991.

W. D. Davies, Paul and Rabbinic Judaism, 1948.

Herman Ridderbos, Paul: An Outline of his Theology, 1966.

J. Christiaan Beker, Paul the Apostle: The Triumph of God in Life and Thought, 1980.

E. P. Sanders, Paul and Palestinian Judaism: A Comparison of Patterns of Religion, 1977.

Commentaries: Mark - Vincent Taylor (1950, 1966) and C. S. Mann.  Matthew - David Hill, 1972,  

Eduard Schweizer, 1975, Ulrich Luz, 1985, 1989. John P. Meier, 1979, Jack Dean Kingsbury, Matthew as Story, 1986. Luke –  Hans Conzelman, Theology of St. Luke, 1957. John - Raymond Brown, Gospel of John, 1966 and Epistles of John 1988 in Anchor Bible; and Community of the Beloved Disciple, 1979. Acts Johannus Munck in the Anchor Bible, 1967, F. F. Bruce, Ernst Haenchen, 1971.

Gerd Luedemann, The Resurrection of Jesus, 1994 and Early Christianity According to the Traditions in Acts, 1988.

Raymond Brown, The Death of the Messiah, 1994. 

E. P. Sanders, Jesus and Judaism, 1985.

Richard B. Hays, The Moral Vision of the New Testament: A Contemporary Introduction to New Testament Ethics, 1996.

Frank J. Matera, New Testament Ethics: The Legacies of Jesus and Paul, 1996.

Hans Conzelmann, The Theology of St. Luke, 1953, 1957.

C. H. Dodd, The Apostolic Preaching and its Developments, 1935, 1964.

Nils Alstrup Dahl, Studies in Paul: Theology for the Early Christian Mission, 1977, but containing essays from 1947-1972.


Additional Notes

The Nicean Creed (325 AD) states that we believe “in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, Very God of Very God, begotten, not made, G from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary, and was made man, and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate.  He suffered and was buried, and the third day he rose again according to the Scriptures, and ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of the Father.  And he shall come again with glory to judge both the quick and the dead, whose kingdom shall have no end.” Such statements form the basis of the doctrinal affirmations within the traditional denominations.  In its Book of Discipline, The United Methodist Church says that at the heart of the gospel of salvation is God's incarnation in Jesus of Nazareth.  Scripture witnesses to the redeeming love of God in Jesus' life and teachings, his atoning death, his resurrection, his sovereign presence in history, his triumph over the powers of evil and death, and his promised return. 

Nietzsche made some significant remarks about Jesus. That Hebrew died too early who the preachers of slow death honor.  For many it has become a calamity that he died too early.  Yet he knew only tears and the melancholy of the Hebrew, and hatred of the good and the just, this Hebrew Jesus.  Then the longing for death overcame him.  Would that he had remained in the wilderness and far from the good and the just!  Perhaps he would have learned to live and to love the earth, and laughter too.  Believe me, he died too early.  He himself would have recanted his teaching, had he reached my age.  Noble enough was he to recant.  He was not yet mature.  Immature is the love of the youth, and immature his hatred of humanity and earth.  His mind and the wings of his spirit are still tied down and heavy.  This Jesus of Nazareth, the incarnate gospel of love, this redeemer who brought blessedness and victory to the poor, the sick, and the sinners.  Was he not a seduction?  Why are you talking about nobler ideals? There was only one Christian, and he died on the cross.  It is false to the point of nonsense to find the mark of the Christian in a faith, for instance, in the faith in redemption through Christ.  Only Christian practice, a life such as he lived who died on the cross, is Christian.  In the Christian world of ideas there is nothing that has the least contact with reality.  It is the instinctive hatred of reality that we have recognized the only motivating force at the root of Christianity.  The catastrophe of the evangel was decided with the death that was attached to the cross.  Only the death, this unexpected, disgraceful death, only the cross which was generally reserved for the rabble, only this horrible paradox confronted the disciples with the real riddle. Who was this?  What was this?  Why in this manner?  Who killed him?  Who was his natural enemy?  Evidently, the small community did not understand the main point, the exemplary character of this kind of death, the freedom, the superiority over any feeling of resentment.  After all, Jesus could not intend anything with his death except to give publicly the strongest exhibition, the proof of his teaching.  His disciples were far from forgiving this death, or even from offering themselves for a like death in gentle and lovely repose of the heart.  Revenge and judgment became their theme.  The popular view of the Messiah and the kingdom of God re-gained dominance, coming in judgment over his enemies.  In this way, everything is misunderstood.  It was there revenge to elevate Jesus extravagantly, to sever him from themselves.  How could God permit this?  This is an absurd question.  Their horrible answer was that God gave him as a sacrifice.  Jesus had abolished the very concept of guilt.  He had denied any cleavage between God and humanity.  He lived this unity of God and humanity as his glad tidings.  The concepts of judgment and resurrection slowly entered Christian teaching.  It is plain what was finished with the death on the cross.  It could have been a Buddhistic peace movement, for an actual happiness on earth.  For this remains the fundamental difference between the two religions of decadence.  Buddhism does not promise but fulfills.  Christianity promises but fulfills nothing.  Judge not, they say, but they consign to hell everything that stands in their way.