Monday, December 20, 2010

The New Testament in a Year: Revelation 13-17

For my own personal study, I am using a combination of tools. These include listening to an audio version of the Bible (TNIV) and a series of commentaries in addition to the text itself. I recognize that not everyone will have access to these materials. I can at least provide a link to the Biblical text itself. For this purpose, I've found that is a very useful tool. Not only does it include the TNIV, which enables me to link to the same text as what I'm listening to with the audio version, but one can easily switch to another translation (if one so desires) simply by using the drop-down menus. I hope that this is helpful.

This week, I am working through Revelation, chapters 13-17.

Chapter 13
  • Verse 3 - I'm trying to imagine what a "fatal wound" that had been healed (by which I'm gathering the writer means something other than the obvious fact that the beast isn't dead) would look like.  And why only one head?  What does this symbolize?  Mounce suggests that it represents a Roman emperor contemporary to the period (there are a couple of options).1
  • Verse 5 - I'm not sure what the significance of the number 42 would be in this context.  I'm guessing that John wasn't familiar with The Hitchhiker's Guide the Galaxy.  Mounce says that 42 months is "the traditional period for religious persecution."2
  • Verse 18 - The significance of the number 666 has been much debated over the centuries.  I notice that the TNIV is translated in such a way as to make it seem more likely that the number refers to a specific person, rather than (as the footnotes suggest) humanity as a whole.  Certainly I've heard interpretations consistent with this "specific" rubric, ranging from Nero to Ronald Wilson Reagan (note that each name has six letters).  (Mounce also notes a strand of interpretation that insists that 666 is "a human number" as being opposed to a "nonhuman" number, but dismisses this interpretation.3)  Suffice it to say, this is a mystery that remains unsolved (although I expect that Nero is closer to the truth than Reagan!).
Chapter 14

  • Verse 1 - I've heard much of the "mark" given to those who follow the Beast (last chapter), but very little seems to be made of the fact that the followers of the Lamb are given a similar mark.
  • Verses 14-20 - Usually, when I hear the language of "harvest" used in Christian contexts, it's referring to the harvest of people to follow God, not a harvest of those who have failed to do so.  Yet the fact that "grapes" harvested are thrown "into the great winepress of God's wrath" leads me to believe that the latter is what is going on here. 
Chapter 15
  • Verse 1 - The indication that these are to be the "last" plagues comes as a relief.  But, admittedly, this is less because of any great feeling of relief that the pain of those who suffer will soon be at an end, and more because the sheer number of these plagues has caused them all to run together, and it's made my head spin trying to keep track of it all.  Let's move on to something else!  (Of course, these "last" plagues still haven't even started by the end of the chapter!)
Chapter 16
  • Verses 9, 11 - The writer notes that the people suffering (because they have followed the beast and not God) still refuse to repent.  Verse 9 even notes their refusal to glorify God.  The thing I find odd about this is the apparent expectation that they should glorify God after God has made them to suffer.  This seems contrary to all reason to me.  A person has just been made to suffer horribly for failing to follow the will of the one causing the suffering. Why, of all things, should that cause the person to glorify the one causing the suffering?  One doesn't decide "OK.  I'll now glorify you who have made me suffer so much.  Praise to you!" in such a circumstance.  Not unless something is horribly wrong with that person's mental state!  That's not "continued rebellion."  That's just not giving glory to an abuser!  If this is their final punishment, and they're getting what they've deserved for their failure after all this time, fine.  But to expect them to glorify God after this treatment just seems wrong.
Chapter 17
  • I'm afraid I have no wisdom to offer on this passage.  Indeed, it seems to me a rehash of much of what's already been done in this book.   I'm definitely glad that I'll be done with this book next week.

1Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation (The New International Commentary on the New Testament), Eerdmans, 1977, pp. 252-253. Mounce further notes a translation difficulty with verse 3. He is emphatic that the original text does not indicate the healing of head, but rather of the beast. The head would still be wounded in this interpretation.
2Mounce, p. 254.
3Mounce, p. 264.

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