THE REVELATION OF JESUS CHRIST TO HIS SERVANT JOHN
Lesson 3: Introduction Part III
Historical Background and Prophecy of the Destruction of Jerusalem
Meanwhile the holy apostles and disciples of our
Savior were dispersed throughout the world. Parthia, according to tradition,
was allotted to Thomas as his field of labor, Scythia to Andrew, and Asia to
John, who, after he had lived some time there, died at Ephesus.
Eusebius, Church History 3.1.1
It is said that in this persecution the apostle and
evangelist John, who was still alive, was condemned to dwell on the island of Patmos in consequence of his testimony to the divine Word.
Eusebius, Church History 3.18.1
In order to have a more complete understanding of the book of Revelation it is necessary to understand the times in which St. John lived as Bishop of Ephesus. Consideration must be given to the cultural and political influences in the seven Roman cities of Asia Minor mentioned in Revelation, and the persecution faced by the Christian communities established in those cities. These were the communities who received letters from St. John revealing the prophetic events he witnessed. Since the cities form a circle surrounding Ephesus, the churches may have been faith communities within St. John's ecclesial jurisdiction (see the map "The Seven Cities of Revelation" in the Maps section).
Growth of the Church in the First Century AD:
When Jesus began his earthly ministry, He chose seventy/seventy-two disciples (Lk 10:1) and from among the twelve Apostles [Geek = apostolos, literal meaning: "one who is sent off," "emissary" (Lk 6:12-16; 10:1). Just as the twelve sons of Jacob/Israel became the physical fathers of the Old Covenant Church established at Mt. Sinai, so too would these twelve men become the spiritual fathers and the first bishops of the New Covenant Church. Jesus' disciples would serve the Apostles in the hierarchy of the new order just as the seventy elders of Israel served in the Old Covenant Church (Ex 24:1, 9), and Sts. Peter, James of Jerusalem, and John Zebedee, Bishop of Ephesus, became the "pillars" of ecclesial authority (Gal 2:9), fulfilling a role similar to that of Aaron and his two eldest sons in the hierarchy of the Old Covenant Church (Ex 24:1, 9). It was to the Apostles, as the first bishops of the universal Church, that Jesus gave the power and authority to govern His kingdom of heaven on earth ( Mt 16:18-19; 28:16-20; Mk 16:15-16; Jn 17:16-26; 19:22-21:23; the book of the Acts of Apostles).
In His death and resurrection Jesus defeated sin and death. After His resurrection He taught His disciples for forty days before ascending to the Father (Acts 1:1-3). It was on Resurrection Sunday that His instruction began: Then he told them, 'This is what I meant when I said, while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses, in the Prophets and in the Psalms, was destined to be fulfilled.' He then opened their minds to understand the scriptures... (Lk 24:44-45).
At the end of His forty-day period of instruction, Jesus commanded the disciples and Apostles to stay in Jerusalem and pray until they were baptized by the Holy Spirit. After His Ascension on the Mt. of Olives they obediently returned to Jerusalem and 120 disciples, together with the Virgin Mary and Jesus' kinsmen, gathered together in the Upper Room to pray and to await the coming of the Paraclete (Acts 1:4-5, 12-14). They prayed for nine days (a novena). The tenth day was the celebration of the Old Covenant feast of Shavuot, which means "weeks" in Hebrew (Lev 23:15-22). In Jesus' day this feast was known by the Greek word he pentekoste (the Pentecost), meaning "the fifth-day." It was a title derived from the revelation of God the children of Israel received at Mt. Sinai on the fifty day after leaving Egypt. The Feast of Weeks/Pentecost was one of the three "pilgrim feasts" in which every man of the covenant was commanded to present himself with his offerings before God's holy altar in Jerusalem (Ex 23:14-17; 34:18-23; Dt 16:5-17; 2 Chr 8:13). This sacred annual feast commemorated the birth of the Old Covenant Church at Mt. Sinai when God descended in a fiery display on the mountain and gave the Law to his covenant people (Ex 19:16-19, 20:1-21). See handout #4 for the liturgical and civil calendar.
In the liturgical calendar of sacred annual Holy Days, the Feast of Weeks/Pentecost was the only feast other than the Feast of Firstfruits that did not have a specific yearly date (Lev 23:5-44). The Feast of Pentecost was to be celebrated seven weeks (counted as the ancients counted it was fifty days) after the Feast of Firstfruits, a feast that fell on the first day after the first Sabbath (Saturday) during the Holy Week of the Feast of Unleavened Bread (Lev 23:9-14).(1) The Feast of Firstfruits celebrated the offering to God of the first of the barley harvest in a communal liturgy with a prescribed sacrifice of a single, unblemished male lamb. While all the other feasts had different appointed dates during the year, which meant the day of the week on which each of those feasts fell changed every year (as in our celebration of Christmas on the 25th of December which might fall on a Saturday one year and on a Monday the next), the Feast of Firstfruits and the Feast of Pentecost, fifty days later, always fell on the first day of the week-the day we call Sunday. Jesus, the first-fruits of the Resurrection (1 Cor 15:23) arose from the dead on the morning of the Feast of Firstfruits (Mt 28:1-6; Mk 16:1-2; Lk 24:1; Jn 20:1-2). Modern Rabbinical Judaism has changed the dates for the annual observance of Firstfruits to Nisan 16th, and therefore also Pentecost so that they do not fall annually on a Sunday and do not coincide with the resurrection of Christ (on the Feast of Firstfruits-the first day of the week during the seven day Feast of Unleavened Bread) or with the events of the Feast of Pentecost in 30 AD, fifty days later (see Jubilees 6:17 and Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews 13.8.4 ).(2)
On the pilgrim Feast of Pentecost, when faithful Jews from all over the Roman world were obligated to come to Jerusalem to celebrate the feast (Acts 2:1, 5-10), God the Holy Spirit descended in fire upon the community of the New Covenant Church in prayer in the Upper Room (Acts 2:1-3). Filled with God the Holy Spirit, the Apostles spilled out into the street and began to preach in many languages and dialects (Acts 2:4-13). At this momentous event St. Peter, the Vicar of Christ, delivered his first great homily to the Jewish crowd on their way to the Temple for the morning worship service (Acts 2:14-41). It was the birth of the New Israel: The universal (Greek katholikos; Latin catholicus) Church.
Jewish and Roman persecution of the Church:
Jewish persecution of Christians began with Jesus' earthly ministry and continued until Judea was devastated by the armies of Rome in the Jewish Revolt that began in 66 AD. However, Roman persecution against Christians didn't begin until 64 AD and was initiated by the Roman Emperor Nero Caesar (ruled 54-68 AD), a persecution that waned after his suicide. Roman persecution continued (with varying degrees of intensity) until 313 AD when the Roman Emperor Constantine issued the Edict of Milan-a Roman decree in which Christianity became an "approved" religion protected under Roman law.
The First Jewish Revolt of 66 AD: The Jewish Revolt of 66 AD was literally "the end of the world" for the Old Covenant Jews. Jerusalem and the Temple were burned to the ground by the Roman Army on the 9th of Ab (Av)-July/August 70 AD, and the Temple of Yahweh was never rebuilt. Today the Moslem shrine the Dome of the Rock sits on the site of the Jerusalem Temple. Since the Jerusalem Temple was the only place on earth where sacrifice could be offered to God, the Old Covenant (Sinai) exercise of sacrifice and worship ceased to exist and the Jews who survived recreated a Judaism (known today as Rabbinical Judaism) without the old liturgy (given by divine command in Leviticus-Deuteronomy) that was not able to adhere faithfully to the Law of Moses or to the prescribed sacrificial system of the Old Covenant Law. A Jewish priest who adopted the Roman name Flavius Josephus survived the war and lived to write The Jewish Wars. Josephus' book is the only history that exists as a written, eye-witness account of this period in Jewish history. We will be referring to this work frequently in our study as well to Josephus' history of his people: Antiquities of the Jews.
New Covenant believers in Judea, Samaria, and the Galilee, now known as Christians (Acts 11:26; 26:28; 1 Pt 4:16), did not participate in the Jewish revolt against Rome. This was the final break between Jews and Christians, many of whom still shared family bonds. Recognizing the signs predicted by Jesus in the Gospels, they escaped across the Jordan River into Perea and remained there during the years of war which lasted from 66 AD until c. 73 AD with the destruction of the last Jewish stronghold at Masada. In the Jewish revolt against Rome thousands perished or were sold into slavery as a result of the war. As a captive of the Romans and an eyewitness to the destruction of Jerusalem Josephus recorded: Now the number of those that were carried captive during this whole war collected to be ninety-seven thousand; as was the number of those that perished during the whole siege eleven hundred thousand [the siege of Jerusalem]; the greater part of whom were indeed of the same nation, but not belonging to the city itself; for they were come up from all the country to the feast of Unleavened Bread, and were on a sudden shut up by an army, which, at the very first, occasioned so great a traitness among them that they there came a pestilential destruction upon them, and soon afterward such a famine, as destroyed them more suddenly (Josephus, The Wars of the Jews 6.9.3 [420-421]). The Roman siege of Jerusalem, which began in the spring of 70 AD during the feasts of Passover (Nisan 14th) and Unleavened Bread (Nisan 15th – 21st), came exactly forty years after Jesus was crucified during the Feast of Unleavened Bread on the 15th of Nisan in the year 30 AD. The Roman siege lasted three and a half months and ended with the destruction of one of the most beautiful buildings in the ancient world at that time, the Jerusalem Temple. The fire that destroyed the Temple was so fierce that the walls of the Temple fell-it was a destruction prophesied by Jesus during His last week in Jerusalem: Jesus left the Temple, and as he was going away his disciples came up to draw his attention to the Temple buildings. He said to them in reply, 'You see all these? In truth I tell you, not a single stone here will be left on another: everything will be pulled down' (Mt 24:1-2).
The greatest source of grief for the Jewish people world-wide was the utter destruction of Jerusalem and the destruction and desecration of holy Temple by the Roman army on the 9th of Ab, 70 AD. Roman general Titus set up his legions' standards, with images of Roman idols, within the burned out walls of the sacred Temple and offered sacrifices to the Roman pagan gods (Josephus, Wars of the Jews 6.6.1 ). The destruction of the Temple by the Roman army was on the same day of the year (the 9th of Ab) as the destruction of King Solomon's Temple by the Babylonian army in 587/6 BC. The Roman Emperor Vespasian financed the building of the Roman Coliseum with the loot confiscated from Judea, Jerusalem and the Temple treasury, and Titus took the sacred furniture of the Temple that survived the fire, the golden lamp-stand (menorah), the golden table of the "Bread of the Presence" and other sacred items were taken back to Rome as trophies of war; their images can be seen in Rome today on the victory arch erected by Vespasian to commemorate Titus' victory known as the "Arch of Titus."
Christian persecution under the Roman emperors Nero and Domitian: (Please refer to list of Roman Emperors in the handout from Lesson 2). As mentioned previously, there was a brief but intense period of widespread persecution of Christians during the reign of the Roman Emperor Nero Caesar. The persecution began in the summer of 64 AD after three-fourths of the city of Rome was destroyed by fire-a catastrophe that the Emperor Nero blamed on the Christian population. The Roman historian and government official Tacitus provides a vivid description of the persecution of Christians during the reign of Nero: In order to stifle the rumor that he had himself set Rome on fire, Nero falsely charged with the guilt and punished with the most fearful tortures the persons commonly called Christians, who were hated for their wicked practices. Christus, the founder of that name, was put to death as a criminal by Pontius Pilate, procurator of Judea, in the reign of Tiberius; but the pernicious superstition, repressed for a time, broke out again, not only through Judea, where the mischief originated, but through the city of Rome also, whither all things horrible and disgraceful flow from all quarters as to a common receptacle and where they are encouraged. Accordingly, first those were seized who confessed; next on their information, a vast multitude were convicted, not so much on the charge of burning the city, as of hating the human race. In their very deaths they were made the subjects of sport: for they were covered with the hides of wild beasts, and worried to death by dogs, or nailed to crosses, or set fire to, and when the day waned, burned to serve for the evening lights. Nero offered his own gardens for the spectacle, and exhibited a Circensian game, indiscriminately mingling with the common people in the dress of a charioteer, or else standing in his chariot. For this cause a feeling of compassion arose toward the suffers, though guilty and deserving of exemplary capital punishment, because they seemed not to be cut off for the public good, but were victims of the ferocity of one man (Tacitus, Annals XV,44).
At the height of the persecution both Sts. Peter and Paul were martyred in Rome (c. 67AD)-St. Peter by crucifixion, as prophesied by Jesus (Jn 22:18-19) and St. Paul, because he was a Roman citizen (Acts 22:25-29), by beheading (crucifixion was reserved for foreign enemies of the state). Most Christian communities were shocked and unprepared for such vicious persecution. The period of official Roman persecution was intense but lasted a relatively short period of three and a half years (as the ancients counted), waning in intensity after the start of the Jewish Revolt in 66 AD and coming to an end with the death of Nero in 68 AD.
The next decades were mostly peaceful for the Church. Since Christians did not take part in the Jewish Revolt against Rome, the Church enjoyed relative peace under the rule of the Roman Emperor Vespasian (69-79AD) and his son Titus (79-81 AD). There is some evidence of persecution during the latter years of the reign of Vespasian's younger son (and Titus' brother) the Emperor Domitian (81-96 AD), but there is no historical evidence of the widespread persecution the Church suffered during the reign of the Emperor Nero. The viciousness of that first wave of persecution would be repeated with equal ferocity during the reign of the Emperor Diocletian, just prior to the reign of the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great-the first Christian emperor. In 313AD Constantine passed the Edict of Milan which recognized Christianity as an approved state religion-a recognition that protected Christians from persecution. Although the majority view of Biblical scholars place the writing of the book of Revelation during the reign of the Emperor Domitian, the minority view of scholars place John's visions between 68 -70 AD during the period of Roman history known as the "reign of the three emperors." These were the years between Nero's death and Vespasian's elevation from a successful senior general to the emperor of the Roman Empire, a period prior to the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in the summer of 70 AD-a Temple that Jesus commanded John to measure in Revelation 11:1.
The Apocalyptic passages from the Synoptic Gospels:
St. Matthew's apocalyptic passages are found Matthew chapter 24, but the focus of chapter 24 begins with the significant passage in Matthew 23:1-36 where Jesus, in His role of God's supreme prophet (Dt 18:15-19), delivers seven curses (Mt 23:1-32) that conclude in a statement of judgment against the leadership of the Old Covenant Church that is a prophetic announcement of a covenant lawsuit: You serpents, brood of vipers, how can you escape being condemned to hell? This is why-look-I am sending you prophets and wise men and scribes; some you will slaughter and crucify, some you will scourge in your synagogues and hunt from town to town; and so you will draw down on yourselves the blood of every upright person that has been shed on earth, from the blood of Abel the holy to the blood of Zechariah son of Barachiah whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar. In truth I tell you, it will all recoil on this generation (Mt 23:33-36; the underlining is my emphasis). In Israel's covenant relationship with Yahweh, obedience reaped covenant blessings but rebellious violations of the Law of the covenant resulted in covenant curses/judgments (see Yahweh's list of covenant blessings and curses/judgments in Lev 26:3-46 and Dt 28:1-68).
Referring to the Matthew 23:33-36 passage:
Question: Why did Jesus call the leadership of the Old Covenant Church "you serpents" and "a brood of vipers"? Hint: see Gen 3:1 and Rev 12:9.
Answer: Satan is the great serpent (Rev 12:9). Vipers are little snakes; Jesus was accusing the leadership of the Old Covenant Church of acting contrary to the will of God for man's salvation and having become Satan's spawn instead of children of God.
Question: Who are the prophets and wise men and scribes Jesus is sending to the covenant people?
Answer: Jesus' disciples and Apostles.
Question: What is it that will recoil on this generation?
Answer: Divine judgment!
Another passage where Jesus condemned His generation is found in Matthew 17:17: Jesus said, 'Faithless and perverse generation! How much longer must I be with you? How much longer must I put up with you?'
This chart provides a comparison between the divisions in the book of Revelation and the apocalypse passages in St. Matthew's Gospel that follow Jesus' announcement of judgment in a covenant lawsuit (see handout 1 to this lesson). Do you see a significant connection?
DIVISIONS IN REVELATION
(in the form of a covenant lawsuit)
MATTHEW'S MINI APOCALYPSE
Jesus' announcement of a covenant lawsuit to the leaders of the Old Covenant Church: You serpents, brood of vipers, how can you escape being condemned to hell [Gehenna]? [..]. In truth I tell you, it will all recoil on this generation (Mt 23:33, 36; underlining my emphysis).
VISION OF THE SON OF MAN
Chapter 1: The history of the covenant
|Four sets of seven judgments in Revelation||Matthew Chapter 24: Judgment|
THE SEVEN LETTERS
Chapters 2-3: Specific stipulations dealing with false prophets, persecution, lawlessness, love grown cold, and the duty of perseverance
|24:3-5, 9-13: Tell us when is this going to happen and what sign will be of your coming and of the end of the world? ...Take care that no one deceives you because many will come using my name...Then you will be handed over to be tortured and put to death...and many will fall away...love in most people will grow cold but anyone who stands firm will be saved!|
THE SEVEN SEALS
Chapters 4-7: Concerned with wars, famine and earthquakes
|24:6-8: You will hear of wars and rumors of wars; see that you are not alarmed, for this is something that must happen, but the end will not be yet for nation will fight against nation and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places.|
THE SEVEN TRUMPETS
Chapters 8-14: Tells of the Church's witness to the world, her flight into the wilderness, the great Tribulation and the False Prophet
|24:11-27: Many false prophets will arise....The good news of the kingdom will be proclaimed to the whole world...so those in Judea must escape to the mountains...Alas for those with child, or babies at the breast when those days come!...For then there will be great distress, unparalleled since the world began....for false christs and false prophets will arise...|
THE SEVEN CHALICES
Chapters 15-22: Describes the darkening of the Beast's kingdom, the destruction of the Harlot, gathering of eagles over Jerusalem's corpse and the gathering of the Church into the heavenly kingdom
|24:28-31: Wherever the corpse is, that is where the vultures will gather. Immediately after the distress of those days the sun will be darkened...and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And He will send his angels with a loud trumpet to gather His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.|
|M. Hunt © copyright 2000|
The generation that witnessed the great works of God in the Exodus experience should have been full of faith, but before the "ink" (so to speak) was dry on the covenant document of the tablets of the Ten Commandments the Israelites broke the covenant. Israel's first fall from the grace was the sin of the Golden Calf. Please read Exodus 32:1-29.
Question: What did the people say in Ex 32:4?
Answer: They cried out that the Golden Calf was their God.
In the Egyptian Delta region a living bull known as "the Apis Bull" was worshiped as a god. The bull was considered to be the physical manifestation of the chief Egyptian agricultural and fertility god Ptah. The worship of the Apis bull was associated with fertility rites-the same worship the Israelites appeared to be offering the calf idol. This was the first violation of the covenant and in the civil war that followed three thousand rebels perished (Ex 32:28).
Please read Acts chapter 2.
Question: What did
St. Peter call his generation of the descendants of Israel who rejected Jesus
as the promised Redeemer-Messiah in Acts 2:40?
Answer: He said: Save yourselves from this perverse generation.
Question: How many people were added to the New Covenant Church on Pentecost Sunday in 30 AD? See Acts 2:41.
Answer: 3,000 men, not counting women and children.
In Peter's first great homily (Acts Chapter 2) he announced to the Jewish crowd that "The Day of the Lord"-the "Last Days" have come (Acts 2:20). In the Old Testament "the Day of the Lord" referred to God's judgment (Is 13:9-10; Amos 5:18-20; Joel 1:15; 2:1-31). St. Peter began his homily by quoting Joel 3:1-5.
Looking at Acts 2:14-41: What advice did Peter give the crowd in Acts 2:40? How did he characterize his generation? Does this remind you of Jesus' statement in Matthew 17:17? Does St. Peter's homily agree with what Jesus said in Matthew chapter 23 when he announced that God's judgement would be visited on "this generation?" This is the generation to which John was instructed to address his apocalyptic message. Judgment would indeed fall on that generation with the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in 70 AD. The prophecy of Matthew chapter 24 was fulfilled.
After reading Matthew chapter 24 please notice the order of the topics covered in St. Matthew's mini apocalypse:
A similar pattern is repeated in Revelation:
The Gospel of John does not have a "mini" apocalypse like the three synoptic Gospels. Is it because it was the intention of the Holy Spirit to reveal the maxi apocalypse to be written down in a separate book? For a detailed comparison of the Synoptic Gospels and the book of Revelation please refer to the chart below (also see handout 1: Lesson 1).
The Synoptic Gospels vs. Revelation-The Judgment on Jerusalem
2. International Strife:
Jerusalem and the Temple of Solomon were destroyed by the Babylonian army on the 9th of Ab [Av] 587/6BC and Jerusalem and the Second Temple were destroyed by the Roman Army on the 9th of Ab 70AD. Is this just an amazing coincidence or a prophesied act of divine judgment?
The Second Advent of Christ: Matthew 24:14 gives the time frame for this event and 24:36 provides the information that "only the Father knows" when this event will occur. Information about Jesus' promised return is also prophesied in the letters of St. Paul (1 Thes 4:17; 2 Thes 1:6-12 and 1 Cor 15:50-53). The trumpet that will sound to announce His coming will be the ram's horn, the shofar. This is the horn that is blown one hundred times on the Feast of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, also called the Feast of Trumpets (Num 29:1-6).
Predictive prophecy in Scripture
Revelation is a book of prophecy: Blessed is anyone who reads the words of this prophecy... (Rev 1:3). What is Biblical prophecy? Biblical prophecy is not 'prediction" in the occult sense of Nostradamus or the psychic cable channel. Placed in a covenantal context with a specific covenantal orientation and reference, the purpose of prophecy is more an evaluation of man's ethical response to God's Word of command and promise. An example would be Jonah's prophecy of the destruction of the Assyrian capital of Nineveh in the eighth century BC. The city of Nineveh believed Jonah, repented her wickedness, and the devastation was averted.
Yahweh spoke of His words revealed in the prophetic voice of His prophets: At one moment I might speak concerning a nation or concerning a kingdom to uproot, to pull down, or to destroy it; if that nation against which I have spoken turns from its evil, I will relent concerning the calamity I planned to bring on it. Or at another moment I might speak concerning a nation or concerning a kingdom to build up or to plant it; if it does evil in My sight by not obeying My voice, then I will repent of the good with which I had promised to bless it (Jer 18:7-10).
Divine revelation has both perfect and imperfectly fulfilled prophecy. In Scripture imperfectly fulfilled prophecy points forward in time to another event of perfect fulfillment.
Some examples of Old Testament prophecy perfectly fulfilled:
Examples of prophecy imperfectly fulfilled:
Citations in the Catechism of the Catholic Church on prophets: #64, 218, 436, 497, 702, 712, 719, 436, 497
The Bible is a book about "covenant":
The Bible is not an encyclopedia of religious information, it is not a collection of moral parables, nor is it a collection of stories about the distant past. The Bible is God's written revelation of Himself and man's relationship to Him through the covenant bond He establishes with those men and women He calls into a unique relationship. This is the theme of the Bible: God's Covenant relationship with His people. Throughout salvation history obedience to God's Covenant yielded blessings but disobedience rained down Covenant curses; for example the Covenant blessings and curses of the Sinai Covenant with the Old Israel. In the Old Testament God's relationship with Israel was always defined in terms of the Covenant, the marriage bond by which He joined her to Himself as His chosen people. While covenant blessings and curses in the Old Testament were temporal, covenant blessings and curses in the New Covenant in Christ are eternal and the covenant bond is expresses as a marriage bond between Jesus the Bridegroom and the New Israel, the Catholic [universal] Church as His Bride.
Let's look more closely at the Old Covenant blessings and curses. Please read Leviticus 26:3-46 and Deuteronomy 28:1-69. The book of Deuteronomy is the last of the Books of Moses. It contains Moses' last homilies to the new generation of Israelites who had grown up during the forty years wandering in the wilderness and who are now about to take possession of the Promised Land. Only Joshua and Caleb were alive from the pervious generation who had witnessed such incredible miracles in the Exodus experience-one a prince of the tribe of Ephraim and the other a gentile convert adopted into the tribe of Judah. In reaffirming the covenant treaty between Yahweh and His people, Moses enumerated the blessings Yahweh promised for obedience to the covenant in Deuteronomy 28:1-14, but he also warned the people of the curses that will befall them if they are disobedient to their covenant promises and obligations (Dt 28:15-68). Notice that in the Old Covenant both the blessings and the curses were temporal. The blessings included health, fertility, good harvest and freedom from oppression while the curses removed the blessing of fertility for sterility, good harvest became famine, and freedom dissolved into foreign invasion and oppression
Please read the curses in Deuteronomy 28:15-69. These covenant curses became prophecy fulfilled in the First Jewish Revolt in the first century AD:
Please read Matthew 24:1-2: Jesus left the Temple, and as He was going away His disciples came up to draw His attention to the Temple buildings. He said to them in reply, 'You see all these? In truth I tell you, not a single stone here will be left on another; everything will be pulled down.' On the 9th of Ab (Av), 70 AD, the fire that engulfed the Temple melted the gold which covered the roof and wall ornamentation on the Temple. The gold melted and ran down between the cracks of the stones. After the battle the Roman soldiers poured cold water on the hot stones to break them apart in order to secure the gold that had melted into the cracks of the stones. Today no trace of the beautiful Temple of Yahweh in Jerusalem survives for just as Jesus prophesized in Matthew 24:1-2. The Roman soldiers in their quest for gold and vengeance so devastated the Temple that not one stone was left standing upon another.
Relationships between people and between nations bound by Covenant:
God's relationship with man has always been defined through the sacred bond of the covenant-from the Covenant with Adam and Creation to the Covenant established with the blood Jesus Christ. In the Sinai Covenant and the creation of the nation of Israel, God joined Himself to Israel in a Covenant that was expressed as a marriage bond between Yahweh and His bride, Israel. The formal covenant treaty arrangements of the Bible bear a striking resemblance to the structure of peace treaties of the city-states and Empires of the Ancient Near East (see Meredith G. Kline, Treaty of the Great King: The Covenant Structure of Deuteronomy (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1963); Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Many Religions-One Covenant: Israel, the Church and the World (page 50); and Marc Van De Mieroop, A History of the Ancient Near East ca 3000-323BC.
The Covenant Treaty: In the ancient Near East relations between individual states were codified and structured through treaties between the great kingdoms and their vassal states and between states regarded as equals. The treaties that have been preserved all involve the Hittite state and Assyria, but there are references in other ancient documents which suggest that this same formalized treaty format was common throughout the Near East. A great king could issue two types of treaties: a royal grant covenant which provided, simply from the king's benevolence, a grant without obligation and time limit. The second type of covenant was the covenant treaty (normally between the great king and his vassal or vassal state), which established cooperation from the great king in exchange for services or obligations to which the vassal was committed under the binding oath of the treaty.
In the formation of a covenant both the dominant king and his vassal swore an oath in treaty form, thereby creating a covenant binding the two parties-the concept of oath swearing in treaty formation is key to understand Biblical covenants. In the Bible, as in the political treaties of the ancient Near East, two types of covenants are established between Yahweh as the great King and His vassals: The Royal Grant Covenant in which Yahweh (the great king) grants His favor without stipulation or obligation in a perpetual covenant and the Covenant Treaty in which Yahweh promises covenant blessings for faithful obedience but covenant curses/judgments for disobedience to the covenant obligations. In the formation of a covenant both the dominant King and his vassal swear an oath in treaty form, thereby creating a covenant binding the two parties. Each party received a copy of the covenant treaty. You will recall that the Sinai Covenant written on the stone tablets are written on the front and on the back of two tablets. In the ancient Near East each party kept their copy of the treaty in their most sacred shrine. In the case of the Ten Commandments both Yahweh's copy and Israel's copy were kept in the Ark of the Covenant, also called the Ark of the Testimony (Ex25:21; 32:15). The standard covenant had six parts, but the Biblical covenant had five-the missing section was the list of false gods in secular covenants who witnessed the document:
The Covenant Treaty Format of Biblical Covenants
|1. Preamble:||Identifying the Lordship of the Great King, stressing his greatness, dominance and eminence.|
|2. Historical Prologue:||Recounting the Great King's previous relationship to his vassal (with special emphasis on the benefits or blessing of that relationship).|
|3. Ethical Stipulations:||Enumerating the vassal's obligations to the Great King (his guide to maintaining the relationship).|
|4. Sanctions:||A list of the blessings for obedience and the curses that will fall on the vassal if he breaks the covenant.|
|5. Succession Arrangements:||Arrangements and provisions for the continuity of the covenant relationship over future generations.|
A marriage covenant followed a similar format with covenant duties and obligations. Covenants formed marriages from which came families. A covenant with an equal creates "brothers." Covenants with non-equals, like a great king and his vassal, created a father/son relationship. The vassal owed the king the loyalty and obedience a son owes a father. Yahweh expresses his covenant with Israel as both a great king to a vassal, but also more meaningfully as a husband to his wife. In the covenant Yahweh formed with David He expressed the relationship as a father to a son (2 Sam 7:14). When Israel strayed from Yahweh to embrace other gods she was an unfaithful wife, a harlot breaking the marriage covenant (Ez 16:15-19, 30-38, 59-60), and when Israel's Judahite kings failed they became rebellious sons.
Covenant Treaties of Old Testament:
One of the best examples of a Covenant Treaty in the Old Testament is the covenant renewal treaty found in the Book of Deuteronomy written by Moses just before the generation of the Sinai Covenant took possession of the Promised Land (the original Exodus generation had died during the forty years between the giving of the Law at Sinai and arriving at the plains of Moab and the entrance into the Promised Land). The book naturally divides into five sections that correspond to the five parts of ancient covenant structure.(3)
COVENANT TREATY FORMAT OF DEUTERONOMY
|1. Preamble||Deuteronomy 1:1-5|
|2. Historical Prologue||Deuteronomy 1:6-4:43|
|3. Ethical Stipulations||Deuteronomy 4:44-26:19|
|4. Sanctions||Deuteronomy 27:1-28:68|
|5. Succession Arrangements||Deuteronomy 29:1-34:12|
In the ancient Near East when a vassal kingdom violated the terms of the covenant agreement, the Great Lord would send emissaries to warn the offenders of the coming judgment and enforcement of the curse sanctions. If the covenant relationship could not be re-established and the violations continued, the great king's emissaries would call a "covenant lawsuit" against the offending vassal. In the Bible it was the mission of God's holy prophets (who acted as God's emissaries) to bring a restoration of covenant obligations or, when failing to call the nation to repentance, to act as Yahweh's prosecuting attorney and to bring the message of the covenant lawsuit against the offending nation. In Hebrew a covenant lawsuit is called a rib/riv. For example:
In every case the holy prophet, acting as Yahweh's emissary, was sent to warn his generation upon whom the covenant curses would fall. Some examples in Scripture are found in:
for Yahweh indicts (literally brings a 'riv', covenant lawsuit to) the citizens of the country: there is no loyalty, no faithful love, no knowledge of God in the country..."
The Covenant Lawsuit in the book of Hosea is laid out in the classic covenant treaty format:
|1. Preamble:||Hosea chapter 1|
|2. Historical prologue||Hosea chapters 2-3|
|3. Ethical Stipulations:||Hosea chapters 2-7|
|4. Sanctions:||Hosea chapters 8-9|
|5. Succession Arrangements:||Hosea chapters 10-14|
The book of the prophet Ezekiel is especially noteworthy as a covenant lawsuit because it parallels the visions of John in Revelation:
Parallels between the visions of the Book of Revelation and the visions of the Book of the Prophet Ezekiel
|1. The throne vision||Chapter 1||Chapter 4|
|2. The book being opened||Chapters 2-3||Chapter 5|
|3. The four plagues||Chapter 5||Chapter 6:1-8|
|4. Those slain under the altar||Chapter 6||Chapter 6:9-11|
|5. The wrath of God||Chapter 7||Chapter 6:12-17|
|6. The seal on the Saint's foreheads||Chapter 9||Chapter 7|
|7. The coals from the altar||Chapter 10||Chapter 8|
|8. The 1/3 destruction||Chapter 5:1-4 and 12||Chapter 8:6-12|
|9. No more delay||Chapter 12||Chapter 10:1-7|
|10. The eating of the book||Chapter 2||Chapter 10:8-11|
|11. Prophecy against the Nations||Chapters 25-32||Chapter 10:11|
|12. The measuring of the Temple||Chapters 40-43||Chapter 11:1-2|
|13. Comparing Jerusalem to Sodom||Chapter 16||Chapter 11:8|
|14. The cup of wrath||Chapter 23||Chapter 14|
|15. The vine of the land||Chapter 15||Chapter 14:18-20|
|16. The great harlot||Chapters 16 and 23||Chapters 17 and 18|
|17. The lament sung over the city||Chapter 27||Chapter 18|
|18. The scavenger's feast||Chapter 39||Chapter 19|
|19. The first resurrection||Chapter 37||Chapter 20:4-6|
|20. The Battle of Gog and Magog||Chapter 38 and 39||Chapter 20:7-9|
|21. The New Jerusalem||Chapters 40-48||Chapter 21|
|22. The River of Life||Chapter 47||Chapter 22|
|M. Hunt © copyright 2000|
The book of the prophet Daniel is not a covenant lawsuit but please note the parallels between the visions of St. John in the book of Revelation and the visions of the Prophet Daniel. Both the books of Ezekiel and Daniel are the keys to understanding the Book of Revelation.
1. Three and a half time period
(a time, 2 times and half a time)
|Chapter 12:7||Chapter 11:9, 11|
|2. The ten horns||Chapter 7:8||Chapters 12:3, 13:1; 17:3, 8|
|3. The Leopard, the Bear, and the Lion||Chapter 7:4-6||Chapter 13:2|
|4. The Beast mouthing boasting and blasphemies||Chapter 7:8, 11||Chapter 13:5|
|5. The war against the Saints||Chapter 7:21||Chapter 13:7|
|6. The worship of the Beast's statue||Chapter 3:5-7, 15||Chapter 13:15|
|7. The Son of Man coming on the Glory-Cloud||Chapter 7:13||Chapters 1:7 and 14:14|
|8. The everlasting kingdom||Chapter 2:44-45||Chapters 21:1-22:5|
Michal Hunt copyright 2000
It is important to note that each of the Old Testament covenant lawsuits is addressed to the current generation in the context of the covenant relationship. When the covenantal context of prophecy was ignored, the message the prophet was told to communicate was either lost or distorted. The point is, if John's prophetic vision is the calling down of a a divine covenant lawsuit (it follows the classic format) then John is addressing the current generation who rejected the Messiah. But he is also addressing the New Covenant Church symbolized in the letters to the seven Churches in Revelation chapters 2 and 3.
Each of those letters is also formatted like a covenant treaty. In other words, the Old Covenant Church faced judgment for rejecting the Messiah while the New Covenant Church became the successor-the New Israel who was bound in covenant by the same duties and obligations. This is a key to unraveling the interpretation of the book of Revelation. John's revelation is a prophecy with a specific covenantal orientation and reference. Note: A covenant lawsuit is not a divorce in the "marriage covenant" between God and Israel as some Protestant scholars have suggested; it is a judgment. God's covenants are irrevocable:
Jesus the Messiah came fulfilling the prophecies of the prophets of Yahweh. He came as prophet, priest, and king to form the New Covenant promised in Jeremiah 31:31-44, but He also came as Yahweh's prosecuting attorney against an apostate Old Covenant people. See Matthew 21:43-46 for Jesus' covenant lawsuit announcement against the Old Covenant Church: (Jesus speaking to the Priests, scribes, and Jews at the Temple): I tell you, then, that the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit.... the chief priests and the scribes realized he was speaking about them...
Understanding Scripture: This study follows the guidelines of the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
The importance and significance of numbers used in Scripture
Numbers are sometimes literal representations of items, days, or events, but more often a number has greater meaning beyond its literal numerical value. The number 7, for example, is used repeatedly in Revelation. Please refer to the List of Sevens in Revelation in the Chart section. To properly grasp the significance of symbolism of numbers in the Book of Revelation it is important to know that the number 7 signifies spiritual perfection or fullness and completion. It is also the number of the Holy Spirit. Please read The Significance of Numbers in Scripture document in the "Documents/Scripture Study" section of the website. This document will help you understand the important role numerical symbolism plays in the Bible.
It is also useful to know that in Biblical times people did not count sequence as we count today. They did not have the concept of 0; therefore, any sequence of numbers started count from the first number in the sequence and ended with the last. For example, we know that Jesus was in the tomb for three days. That is not three days as we count. He was crucified on a Friday, remained in the tomb on Saturday, and was resurrected Sunday morning. We would count from Friday to Saturday as the first day and Saturday to Sunday as the second day. The way we count, Jesus only spent two days in the tomb. Ancient peoples would begin the count with Friday and end with Sunday, which would yield, for them three days. This time frame for the length of time in the tomb is also an example of the symbolic significance of the number three. In the Old Testament the number three represented "completion, that which is solid or substantial and entire." It was one of the four so-called "perfect" numbers (three, seven, ten and twelve). But in the New Testament we also understand that three represents the mystery of the Most Holy Trinity. The way the ancients looked at numbers and their greater significance is important understanding the full significance of Jesus' three days in the tomb.
Marriage customs at the time of Jesus:
For the Old Covenant people a wedding ceremony lasted seven days. On the seventh day, after the final words had been spoken uniting the couple in the covenant of marriage, the bridegroom would lift up the bride and carry her into the bridal tent or room that had been prepared for them. Then he would set her down and for the first time he would lift her veil. This lifting of the veil was called the "apocalypse" (means "unveiling). It was the unveiling of the bride just before their physical union when the two would become one. Understanding this custom and the common use of the word "apocalypse/unveiling" at the time John had his vision is an "unveiling" of our understanding and interpretation of John's heavenly vision.
This concludes the introduction to Revelation. You will find this background information indispensable in understanding this most difficult book of prophecy and fulfillment. May God bless you in your study.
1. In ancient times there was no concept of a 0-place value and so every sequence began with the first in the sequence as #1. That is why we say that Jesus was in the tomb three days from Friday to Sunday. In the seven weeks from the Feast of Firstfruits to Pentecost, counting the Feast of Firstfruits as day #1, there were fifty days.
2. The Jewish book of Jubilees, 6.17, identifies the giving of the Law celebrated on the Feast of Shauvot (Weeks/Pentecost) on the first day of the week, fifty days from the Feast of Firstfruits as the ancients counted. Flavius Josephus, a first century AD Jewish priest and historian (c. 30-100 AD) wrote that the day of celebration of the Feast of Pentecost had been changed: And truly he did not speak falsely in saying so; for the festival, which we call Pentecost, did then fall out to be the day next to the Sabbath ... Antiquities of the Jews 13.8.4 ). The Jewish Sabbath is Saturday and the day next to the Sabbath is Sunday.
3. See: Kline, Treaty of the Great King; also Sutton, That you may Prosper: Dominion by Covenant, Tyler, Tx: Institute for Christian Economics, 1987.
Michal Hunt, Copyright © 2000, revised 2010 Agape Bible Study. Permissions All Rights Reserved.