The Revelation: More than Conquerors, Part 2 (What the parallel visions teach us)

lion-dove-lamb-yeshuaIn the last post, we considered the approach to interpreting the Revelation offered by William Hendriksen’s 1939 More Than Conquerors: An Interpretation of the Book of Revelation.

I posted the last few verses of each of seven parallel visions, all concluding with God’s victory over Satan. But they are not the same. They offer radically different perspectives.

    • Chapter 3 promises God’s children a seat on his throne and a crown. It speaks of “one who conquers.” “Prevails” would be a better translation. The idea is to “hold fast” (3:25) — to be faithful. We are not the one who is called to conquer the Dragon. That’s Jesus’ job. Our job is to be faithful.
    • In chapter 7, the saved are described as: “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” It’s the work of the Messiah that saves them. They held on through the times of tribulation.
    • Chapter 11 concludes with a celebration of the Lord’s victory, but it’s a result of the outpouring of God’s wrath against “the destroyers of the earth.” “The nations raged, but your wrath came, and the time for the dead to be judged, and for rewarding your servants, the prophets and saints, and those who fear your name, both small and great, and for destroying the destroyers of the earth.”

Destroyers and misusers of humanity’s stewardship of the earth reversed the mandate God had originally given humanity (Gen 1:26). This idea was not unknown in John’s day, e.g., 2 Baruch 13:11, although the unrighteous use of creation there may refer specifically to idolatry. Many Jewish writers also believed that humanity’s sin had corrupted the whole creation (e.g., 4 Ezra).

Craig S. Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament (Accordance electronic ed. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1993), 792.

Yes, God cares about his creation and will punish those who don’t care for it as he commanded in Genesis 2:15.

  • Chapter 14, in radical contrast, ends with the image of people being harvested by an angel with a sickle. “19 So the angel swung his sickle across the earth and gathered the grape harvest of the earth and threw it into the great winepress of the wrath of God.  20 And the winepress was trodden outside the city, and blood flowed from the winepress, as high as a horse’s bridle, for 1,600 stadia.” This passage inspired the “Battle Hymn of the Republic” and the notion of the Grim Reaper. It’s not pretty — and it’s as contrary to Universalism and such like as can be imagined. Jesus’ victory will include the destruction of people who are his enemies.
  • Chapter 16 again concludes with a message of vengeance: “and they cursed God for the plague of the hail, because the plague was so severe.” It’s not just that God will prevail, but that his enemies will suffer the justice of his wrath. They will pay a high price for their sins — their persecution of the church, their treatment of the poor, etc.
  • Chapter 19 concludes with the defeat of the Dragon and the two Beasts “20 And the beast was captured, and with it the false prophet who in its presence had done the signs by which he deceived those who had received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped its image. These two were thrown alive into the lake of fire that burns with sulfur.  21 And the rest were slain by the sword that came from the mouth of him who was sitting on the horse, and all the birds were gorged with their flesh.” While the monsters are thrown in the Lake of Fire, “the rest” are slain with a sword — that is, the word of God preached by Jesus.

All of these passages suggest that judgment in the context of an eschatological battle comes by means of the power of the Word of God rather than through force of arms.

Christopher C. Rowland, “The Book of Revelation,” in Hebrews-Revelation (vol. 12 of New Interpreters Bible, Accordance electronic ed. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1998), 700.

Then I saw an angel standing in the sun, and with a loud voice he called to all the birds that fly directly overhead, “Come, gather for the great supper of God,  18 to eat the flesh of kings, the flesh of captains, the flesh of mighty men, the flesh of horses and their riders, and the flesh of all men, both free and slave, both small and great.”

The humans die. They are defeated and suffer death. It’s hardly a pleasant scene. It’s a dishonorable death (far more important to the Greeks in Asia Minor than most Americans), and it’s eternal death — that is, death with no hope of resurrection.

  • Finally, chapter 20 presents the general resurrection, even those who died at sea. And “14 Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire.  15 And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.” Hades is where the dead reside. It’s the grave or, in OT language, Sheol. Jesus defeats death itself. The gates of Hades — the passageway into death itself — cannot defeat the Kingdom. Indeed, the Kingdom defeats Hades. And those not within the church are destroyed. The Lake of Fire is where Death and Hades are destroyed — not where they are tormented. The point is their utter dissolution — they cease to exist. There will be no more death and no more graves.

So the Revelation is not rainbows and unicorns with glitter and stickers. It’s ugly, brutal, and horrific. The reason the words fill our poetry, music, and fears is that John very intentionally grabs images that are primordial and very powerfully draws a distinction between the saved and the lost.

He doesn’t threatened the damned with perpetual, conscious torment. But he does threaten a horrifically painful destructive death and cessation of existence. God’s justice will be meted out — fairly. Those who suffer will richly deserve what they receive. But it will be ghastly and awful for those who’ve opposed God’s church. Unambiguously. Take whatever point of view you wish, the Revelation promises a painful ruin for those who stand against God and Jesus.

But for the church, despite its imperfections and weakness, if God’s people will just hold on and be faithful in the face of temptation and persecution — if they’ll flee the idolatries of nationalisms and false religions, gains made from mistreating others — and be true to their calling to serve God and him only — they will be more than conquerors.

[From Nashville and from Zambia. I have to say, I prefer the Zambian style. I mean, why not celebrate?! Isn’t that whole point?]

All of which brings us to a very nice blog post by Jonathan Storment “Set Free with Sorrow.” Read the entire post, but here’s the key conclusion:

Everyone suffers, to different degrees and at different levels, but we all suffer, the difference is how we bear it.

Anne Lindbergh discovered that when we suffer we must also mourn. We must be able to name things as they really are, and not pretend that our faith makes us somehow immune to pain, but even harder, we must remain open and vulnerable to even more suffering. …

One day your days will run out. One day you will die and leave all your unused staples behind. And the great temptation of humanity is to avoid and ignore that at all costs, To deny your death, and to ignore suffering.

But Jesus came to “free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death”

Jesus came to set us free.

And sometimes we find we are set free with sorrow.

The point of the Revelation isn’t that God protects us from suffering. Quite the opposite. The visions predict all sorts of dreadful suffering by God’s people. Name an imaginable calamity, and it’s visited on God’s people in apocalyptic Technicolor by John the Revelator.

The lesson is that God will be with us as we sustain the suffering. And if we’re patient, we’ll see God win the victory over those who make us suffer. And so our suffering will in no way separate us from God. Rather, because God is the God who suffered for us on the cross, our suffering will draw us closer to him — marking us as his beloved people for whom he will defeat every enemy — even Death and the Grave.

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About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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3 Responses to The Revelation: More than Conquerors, Part 2 (What the parallel visions teach us)

  1. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    From a private comment:

    Does not JS Russell’s work, The Parousia take a position, written before the fall of Jerusalem, that is the focal event? He seems to conclude that the day of judgment passed with the fall of Jerusalem but also continues with each person when they die. But I may have really failed to comprehend his point when I read the book 20 or so years ago.

    I was not familiar with this book until following up on this comment. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/J._Stuart_Russell is a succinct, helpful article. And, indeed, Russell was a Preterist.

    I rather like Charles Spurgeon’s comment on the book, quoted in the same article —

    The second coming of Christ according to this volume had its fulfilment in the destruction of Jerusalem and the establishment of the gospel dispensation. That the parables and predictions of our Lord had a more direct and exclusive reference to that period than is generally supposed, we readily admit; but we were not prepared for the assignment of all references to a second coming in the New Testament, and even in the Apocalypse itself, to so early a fulfilment. All that could be said has been said in support of this theory, and much more than ought to have been said. In this the reasoning fails. In order to concentrate the whole prophecies of the Book of Revelation upon the period of the destruction of Jerusalem it was needful to assume this book to have been written prior to that event, although the earliest ecclesiastical historians agree that John was banished to the isle of Patmos, where the book was written, by Domitian, who reigned after Titus, by whom Jerusalem was destroyed. Apart from this consideration, the compression of all the Apocalyptic visions and prophecies into so narrow a space requires more ingenuity and strength than that of men and angels combined. Too much stress is laid upon such phrases as ‘The time is at hand,’ ‘Behold I come quickly,’ whereas many prophecies of Scripture are delivered as present or past, as ‘unto us a child is born,’ etc., and ‘Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows.’ Amidst the many comings of Christ spoken of in the New Testament that which is spoken of as a second, must, we think, be personal, and thus similar to the first; and such too must be the meaning of ‘his appearing.’ Though the author’s theory is carried too far, it has so much of truth in it, and throws so much new light upon obscure portions of the Scriptures, and is accompanied with so much critical research and close reasoning, that it can be injurious to none and may be profitable to all.

    Spurgeon disagrees with the Preterist theory, for reasons I agree with, but finds much of the research beneficial to understanding the Revelation.

  2. Reflecting on the comments on the first. In this series on Revelation, and on the two posts on Hendrixson’s More Than Conquorers, I recall teaching Revelation following Hendrixson in 1961 or 1962 when I was in my early 20’s in a small church in north Alabama. This church had several members who were of the non-institutional persuasion, as well as others who did not agree with that view, along with me. When I received a plea from a Church of Christ related orphanage to sponsor a child there, I took it to the men of the church. There was some discussion (some heated). The result? Three individuals – one with NI persuasion, one ‘liberal’ who did not agree with that view, and myself – each agreed to sponsor a child, which was 3 times what had been asked of us. Then, when at the end of 1962 I quit my day job as a computer programmer at Marshall space flight center to go to New Zealand as a missionary, the church decided without any begging from me to assist me. They did send to me directly, not through my sponsoring church. (Yes, the sponsoring church knew of that support and of the reason they wanted it handled that way.)

    This church showed me that churches do not have to split over every doctrinal disagreement. I recently posted at http://www.committedtotruth.wordpress.com an item, Must Churches Have Factions? I think my interest in promoting church unity may date from that positive experience in north Alabama.

    .

  3. I forgot to say I wanted to get comments as they come in.

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