Re: Revelation's allusions to the OT
- Dear Don,
<<< The question is, did he (John) actually expect the termination of the literal creation?>>>
You may be right when you say that the '"de-creation" language is typical metaphoric hyperbole', but I am not convinced. Now my not being convinced may simply come from my impression that if what we have now is the new heaven and new earth, then God has either failed or has a very low expectation for his eternal kingdom, but I think there is more to it than that.
It seems to me - and I think this is where your estimation of OT prophecy falls short and so you have the view that you do - that much prophecy, in the same way that I suggest it is so for the Revelation, is (at least) dual purposed. That is, for example, while God may have been speaking of the destruction of Babylon in Isaiah 13-14, some of the prophecy was looking beyond Babylon and to a greater event. 13;9-13 (bracketed with references to the day or the wrath of the Lord) may have been hyperbole for the destruction of Babylon but be still awaiting its final fulfilment. That is, God used the pronouncement against Babylon to foretell a final judgment against al the wicked of the earth.
Another example is Jeremiah 31:31-34. In context it would (and should) be seen as the restoration of Israel after its exile in Babylon. That happened, but the real event that saw this fulfilled was Pentecost.
I think that much prophecy given about Israel in the OT has a partial fulfilment with them/her but looks beyond Israel to the Church, the New Israel.
The closing reference of Isaiah to 'the new heavens and the new earth' as well as the judgment of the rebellious (Isa 66:22-24) still waits to be realized.
So, in answer to your presuppositions and conclusion below:
<<<1.) If John was truly anticipating the fulfillment of the prophetic hope of the Old Testament prophets (Revelation 10:7f), >>>
Which he did.
<<<2.) And if the Old Testament prophets foretold the coming of the New Heavens and Earth,>>>
Which they did.
<<<3.) Then it seems that the right approach to understanding John's hope is to go to the Old Testament predictions of the New Heavens and Earth, to grasp what John was anticipating.>>>
And it is right, but did John understand the OT predictions in the way that you do? At the level you seem to hold it, the OT relates only to physical Israel and the nations that engaged with it. The early Church, however, saw that it was called to a global mission, 'to the ends of the earth'. In that case they/John would have understood that much of the OT also looked beyond the nation Israel to a global situation. While John did - and had to - use OT imagery, his view of it was enlightened by his years with Jesus and the illumination of the Spirit. John's understanding of the OT as well as the Revelation would have been shaped by, among other things, the teaching of Matt 24 (Mk 13; Lk 21). He expected the earth to reach such a condition that, without God's intervention for the sake of the elect, no human would survive it. He expected Christ to return in glory such that all would see and know it.
Yes, the OT gives us an essential background, but the impact of the global events it and the Revelation foretell should not be restricted to or by the impact of the local events worked out in that age and stage of God's revelation of himself and his purposes. I look forward very much to the day described in Rev 21-22, however much symbolism it may contain.
- Dear Ian,
<<<My question here, and one I had while reading N. T. Wright as well, is whether this assumption is valid; and, in fact, can this question of validity really be settled one way or another for John specifically?
Will the reality behind the prophecy be an actual transformation in the earth and its atmosphere? Or will it be some other reality to which the cosmic language is simply hyperbole?>>>
If I understand you correctly, I think my response to Don would be as good as I could offer here as well.
It must be that the language we use is inadequate to describe things that are beyond us, things of which John received a glimpse. Until we know the present, existential reality of living righteously and without sin, not just (just!!!) the wonder of it we experience through faith while still dealing with continuing failure, we need hyperbole to point us beyond the present. However, while we may not be able to fully understand what it is that our language conceals as much as it reveals, this does not mean that there is not a reality which is yet to open up to us and which John sought to describe in the words that he did. Far be it from me to criticize lights such as N.T. Wright but, if what you are saying is what I think you are saying - and what Wright is saying - I am concerned that we have lowered our sights and become content with a hope far, far short of what God intends.
My position is that much of the NT was written after the Revelation was given and with the words and images of the Revelation in mind. As an example, in 2 Peter the apostle says that 'the heavens and earth that now exist have been stored up for fire' (3:7) and that 'the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a loud noise, and the elements will be dissolved with fire, and the earth and the works that are on it will be burned up' (3:10). This, I believe, Peter wrote in response to the Revelation. Now these statements are not in the middle of a burst of apocalyptic hyperbole. He was saying in plain language exactly what he thought would happen. It was what he understood the Revelation to be indicating in its (perhaps) hyperbolic terminology. Of course, with the immediate fulfillment of the Revelation still to happen (Nero's persecutions as I date it) he was still of the opinion that the whole of the Revelation was about to be fulfilled. Had he lived through Nero's persecutions he would, like the other apostles, have had to come to grips with the partial fulfillment that they witnessed and experienced. However, that does not mean that he would have decided that the Revelation was largely and simply hyperbole and be satisfied with the continuing Roman Empire as the new heavens and new earth. He would be anticipating, at some stage still unknown, the final fulfillment of all that had been indicated to them in the Revelation, as much had already been told them by Jesus himself (e.g. in the mini-apocalypses of Matt 24, Mk 13 and Luke 21).
I'm starting to rave. I hope this is useful.
- Greetings! As to Kyn Smith's comments on 2 Peter 3, it seems to me that if
the author was responding to Revelation, his picture of the world's
consummation would not be so totally different from that of Revelation 20.
In Revelation the heavens and earth flee; it is flight, not fire. I would
be more inclined to think Revelation is modifying 2 Peter (which has much in
common with Sybiline Oracles) or is perhaps simply totally independent from
the tradition of 2 Peter.
Juan Stam, Costa Rica
> My position is that much of the NT was written after the Revelation wasgiven and with the words and images of the Revelation in mind. As an
example, in 2 Peter the apostle says that 'the heavens and earth that now
exist have been stored up for fire' (3:7) and that 'the day of the Lord will
come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a loud noise,
and the elements will be dissolved with fire, and the earth and the works
that are on it will be burned up' (3:10). This, I believe, Peter wrote in
response to the Revelation. Now these statements are not in the middle of a
burst of apocalyptic hyperbole. He was saying in plain language exactly what
he thought would happen. It was what he understood the Revelation to be
indicating in its (perhaps) hyperbolic terminology. Of course, with the
immediate fulfillment of the Revelation still to happen (Nero's persecutions
as I date it) he was still of the opinion that the whole of the Revelation
was about to be fulfilled.!
- Dear Juan,
While we must always be careful with apocalyptic language - and I may well be guilty of being too literal where I should not be - Peter's understanding that the heavens and earth would be devoured by fire need not be negated by the heaven and earth fleeing in Rev 20:11. This verse is in reference to the Lord's return to judge the earth. That judgment must happen in the presence of those who are to be judged (the sea - which has no place in the new [21:1] gives up the dead in it).
The new heavens and new earth of 21:1f are post judgment, they are the eternal home of the eternal family. By this stage the first heaven and first earth had not simply 'fled' but 'was no more' (ouk estin eti - no longer is). The destruction of the old 'by fire' occurs between the judgement of those of the old, bringing this age to and end, and the appearance of the new and eternal.
Peter's understanding that the earth would be destroyed by fire may have come from the many useages through the Scriptures as fire as a means or expression of God's judgment. It may be a contrast to the destruction of the flood. It may be an extension of the use of fire in judgment in teh Revelation (e.g. 20:9). But it may also be something he/they had been taught directly from Jesus.
As for 1 Peter being after the Revelation, I think (and have produced an historical reconstruction to support) that the only books written prior to the Apocalypse were Galatians, 1&2 Thess, 1&2 Cor, Romans, Philippians and Hebrews. The last two of these especially were, I believe, written soon before and into the situation that the Revelation was given. Apart from John, Matthew, Luke and 2&3 John, I think the rest of the books were written in the two years following the Revelation (mid 62) and before Nero's persecution commenced (late 64). They were all written with the Revelation in mind and were part of the apostles' preparation of the Church for the final tribulation they thought would preceded the return of Christ.