Friday, December 22, 2006

Apocalypse Noun

Here's the (only) essay I did for one of the highlight-modules of this semester - 'Biblical Theology and the Book of Revelation'. I'd be interested to know what others who did the essay think, and what others who didn't think about how what is discussed in the essay could be put to pastoral or evangelistic use.

(NB: This essay is based on a particular reading of Revelation, not new to the church by any means, but unfamiliar to most of us in the contemporary evangelical UK scenario. In this view the book is primarily about the events of AD70 when God judged Old Israel and made way for New Israel (Church). Obviously the last three chapters at least are still 'future' to us.)

(NB: Bible references are mainly in the footnotes, sorry, but hey, I was working to a word limit)

How does John use the idea of ‘name’ in the book of Revelation and what is its significance?

The idea of ‘name’ is used frequently in John’s Apocalypse. This is indicated by the occurrence of the Greek word /oνομα/ (or variant) 34 times across 29 verses of the book.[1] This essay will seek to show that John’s usage is largely rooted in an Old Testament Covenantal use of this concept, interpreted Christologically. It will also seek to show that the term is thus used as a tool (one of many John employs throughout the Apocalypse) for establishing his central contrast[2] between Babylon and the New Jerusalem, between the Kingdom of Satan and that of Christ, between idolatrous Israel coming under judgment and the New Israel awaiting promised salvation.[3] This essay will proceed by examining and discussing the various uses of the name concept.

The first usage of ‘name’ in Revelation (2:3) introduces one of the main ways the concept is used – to describe the faithfulness of God’s people. This same usage occurs three other times in the letters to the seven churches (2:13, 3:4, 3:8) each time as a commendation of the church for allegiance to Christ in various different ways. Reflection on the possible background for this usage suggests it is best understood in a covenantal sense. Throughout scripture the name of God is connected with a revelation of his character which he alone can fully know and reveal.[4] To know God’s name is to know him and be in an intimate relationship with him due to his self-revelation.[5] John in his gospel has already ably shown the relationship between the revealed name of God and Christ’s own name,[6] and these texts in Revelation assume such a link. To be faithful to Christ’s name is to trust in his self-revelation and to maintain identification with his character. This is seen in the way it is associated with commendations for faithfulness in suffering, doctrinal purity and perhaps even public witness.[7] This fidelity amounts to covenant faithfulness, as is confirmed by those texts in the Old Testament which relate the name of God to covenant faithfulness on the part of his people.[8] In this way then ‘name’ functions to flesh out aspects of the appropriate response to the message of the book which John is calling for in his readers.[9]

A similar Old Testament framework is doubtless behind John’s usage of ‘name’ with respect to the blessings promised to the faithful throughout the book. So in 2:17 the faithful are promised a ‘new name’ written on a white stone, evoking both their future vindication by Christ and the stones of remembrance worn by Aaron in the most holy place.[10] This ‘new name’ could be understood to be either the believer’s name or the name of God/Christ as revealed to the believer and placed on him in 3:12 and 14:1.[11] However, if this ‘name’ is understood as “the divinely-ordained definition of himself as belonging to the covenant of the Lord Jesus Christ”[12] then neither option is mutually exclusive of the other.[13] In other words, God will faithfully remember those who overcome, protect them and bring them to share in Christ’s victory (as suggested by his ‘name’ in 19:16) because they are marked out as belonging to him by virtue of faith-union.[14] This ‘new name’ thus suggests the typological fulfilment of prophetic ‘new covenant’ promises in Christ and in him also the Church.[15]

Similar ideas are in view in 22:4, 14:1 and 3:12 all of which describe God’s people as in some way bearing his name or having his name put on them.[16] This must be understood in the light of the Old Testament references to Israel as those called by God’s name, which is often related to blessing and salvation, including protection from and victory over their enemies. [17] This is confirmed by the similarity between the naming of these passages and the forehead sealing in 7:3 and 9:4 which is undoubtedly ‘a sign of ownership and protection’ and covenant membership.[18] Of all of these passages, 3:12 emerges as highly significant for our consideration of John’s usage of the ‘name’ concept not least because it contains three interwoven[19] ‘name’ promises for the faithful which in turn gather together several differing strands of Old Testament uses of the concept. Christ promises to “write on him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem…and my own new name” in the context of the believer who overcomes being established as a pillar in the temple. Thus 3:12 juxtaposes all the major Old Testament images related to ‘name’, i.e. God’s revealed Covenant Name, and his people, the city of Jerusalem and the temple - all of which were said to bear his name.[20] The inclusion of Jesus’ own new name may indicate that the basis on which these Old Testament allusions are being used and applied to the Church is Christological.

The same covenantal background is operating in those texts referring to the believer’s own name in relation to covenant blessings. 3:5 undoubtedly has as its background the proposed covenant expulsion in Exodus 32:32-33, Deuteronomy 9:14 and Psalm 69:28, as well as the books in Malachi 3:16 (referring to an Israelite remnant remaining faithful to God’s name) and Daniel 12.[21]

Together these undoubtedly indicate the guarantee of enjoying the blessings of Revelation 21-22, in particular God’s presence (given the link with God’s own name in all the allusions).[22] In addition however we must ask why these Old Testament allusions would be used by John unless he wished to portray the church as enjoying the fulfillment of a variety of Old Testament types, shadows and promises, in and through Christ. The self-understanding he wishes to impart or confirm to the seven churches is that in Christ they are the new Israel, the new temple and the new Jerusalem.This is confirmed by James Jordan’s outline of the “sequence” of “God’s Covenant-making” and the renewal of the Covenant throughout redemption history. Both the ‘Declaration of God’s new Name” and a new name for his people and/or “new world” are included in the sequence.[23] It would seem that such Covenant confirmation at least partly governs John’s usage of ‘name’.[24]

Therefore, thus far we conclude that John, by using the ‘name’ concept in these specific ways, is expounding his conviction that the Church is the Covenant people of God, constituted in Christ and awaiting full enjoyment of all the covenant blessings.[25] The importance of this covenantal concept within John’s usage of ‘name’ becomes clearer when we consider usages of the concept in connection with the forces of Satan and his counterfeit kingdom, to which we now turn.

Much like the letters to the seven churches, the section running from 13:1 to 15:4[26] contains several inter-related uses of the ‘name’ concept, 9 in total found in 8 verses. Of particular interest here is the way that the name concept as applied to the beast from the sea and his followers provides a contrast with the naming of Christ and his followers both in this section and elsewhere in the book. In 13:1 the beast wears blasphemous names on his forehead and proceeds (13:6) to blaspheme the name of God (in contrast to those who wear God’s name and fear it, 11:18 and 14:1). Poythress, who sees the beasts and the dragon together as a “counterfeit trinity”, suggests that the beast out of the sea is presented as a counterfeit Christ, not least because his blasphemous names contrast with Christ’s “worthy names” in chapter 19.[27] The names on his forehead thus signify “imitation of Christ’s true kingship.”[28] Similarly the beast mimicks Christ’s “covenantal headship” by sealing his followers with his name/number, an act which perhaps suggests that not only are they owned by the beast but also “that his followers will be like him”.[29] This mirrors what we have already seen regarding the usage of ‘name’ in the letters to the churches. Beale’s suggests that several texts (e.g. Exodus 13:9, Deuteronomy 6:8) about the place of the torah in Israel’s covenant relationship with the LORD stand behind the imagery of a mark on the forehead and the hand in 13:16-17.[30] This is obviously all the more poignant if ‘those who dwell on earth’ signify apostate Israel and the beast from the land represents apostate Jewish leaders.[31]

17:5 draws out a further contrast when Jerusalem the harlot (who sits on the beast from 13:1)[32] is named in contrast and then contrasted with the description of the bride in 19:7-8 and 21:2.[33] It is also possible that, together with the passages which describe ‘royal’ Babylon’s demise (18:2, 7,10 21), a contrast with Christ’s victorious name in 19:16 is intended.[34] Similarly in 13:1-15:4 ‘name’ is used to highlight the inevitable failure of the beast and his followers, not least because imitation itself implies defeat - Satan can merely counterfeit God the Creator and his Kingdom.[35] This is further supported by the possibility that the 8 ‘name’ statements in this section are arranged in a loose chiastic structure as below.

A. Rev 13:1 The beast and his blasphemous names.

B. Rev 13:6 The beast blasphemes God’s name.

C. Rev 13:8 Those not written in the book of life worship the beast

D. Rev 13:16-17 The beast marks his followers

D’. Rev 14:1 The 144k are marked with the Lamb and his Father’s name

C’. Rev 14:11 Those who worship the beast (and receive his name) will be judged.

A’. Rev 15:2 Vision of those who conquered the beast and its name.

B’. Rev 15:4 All nations will fear God’s name

If correct, this structure emphasises the vindication of God’s name and kingdom and the defeat of the beast. It could be that the inverted order of A’ and B’ is there to highlight the importance of the vindication of God’s name as blasphemed in B by making it not just the end of the cycle but also the eighth ‘name’ statement and therefore naturally associated with resurrection, victory and vindication.[36] Certainly this structure implies that the central contrast being made is between the worshippers of the beast and the worshippers of God, between unfaithful Israel and those faithful in the new covenant, whose divergent futures are described by John in terms drawn from Israel’s own covenantal history regarding the writing or blotting of names within God’s book.[37]

Thus it seems that ‘name’ is being used throughout this section to help establish a contrast, a contrast that is framed in covenantal language and imagery. This is because ‘name’ is functioning as a facet of the central contrast John wishes to establish throughout the book - the contrast between Babylon and Jerusalem. Apostate Israel had abandoned the covenant for an idolatrous relationship with Rome, and were standing in opposition to God’s new Covenant people who will inevitably triumph since they are marked with the name of him who is King of Kings and Lord of Lords.[38]

However, this is not the only way in which John uses ‘name’. In particular, 3 texts (6:8, 8:11 and 9:11) emerge as not obviously related to covenantal concepts. These usages seem to form something of a set, being located within cycles of seven. In particular two (8:11 and 9:11) of them could be identified with Satan in either an indirect or a direct way.[39] The uses of ‘name’ here are not inconsistent with John’s relation of name to character[40] elsewhere in the Apocalypse as described above. It should be added that Satan is strongly associated with the beast’s kingdom and that both he and Death share that kingdom’s fate.[41] Thus whilst not identical, these other occurrences are far from unrelated to John’s main usage of ‘name’.

In conclusion, for John ‘name’ is predominantly a covenantal biblico-theological concept which he employs in the Apocalypse as one tool among many to establish the central contrast in the book between Babylon and the Church, both in terms of their covenant status and divergent futures. As such, meditating on this theme will further facilitate the promised blessing[42] of the reader.

[1] Or 35 times if a textual variant of 21:12 is accepted.
[2] David Field, “The harlot Babylon and the bride Jerusalem”, (Lecture notes, Oak Hill Theological College, 2006).
[3] Thus a specific preterist reading of Revelation is assumed throughout this essay. See generally Ralph E. Bass, Back to the Future - A Study in the Book of Revelation, (Greenville, USA: Living Hope Press, 2004), and David Chilton, The Days of Vengeance – An Exposition of the Book of Revelation, (Ft. Worth, Texas: Dominion Press, 1987).
[4] Carl B. Hook, “New Song”, Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology: 567.
[5] See e.g., Exodus 3:13-15, 6:3, 34:5-7. “Name”, DBΙ: 582-586 Cf. comments on 2:17 in G.K. Beale, The Book of Revelation – A Commentary on the Greek Text, (NIGTC; Carlisle: Paternoster, 1999) 254 - 255.
[6] For e.g. in the many ‘I Am’ statements (e.g. John 14:6) and in John 17:11-12. Raymond B. Dillard, “God, Name of”, Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology: 295-297. 297.
[7] Beale, Revelation, 229, 246 & 256.
[8] See e.g., Exodus 20:7, Leviticus 24:16, Psalm 5:11, 7:17, 9:10, 20:7, 22:22, 61:5, 102:15, and Micah 4:5.
[9] Note the similarity between 3:8 and 1:3, especially given the relationship between ‘word’ and Christ’s name in 19:13. Also, Vern Poythress argues that the commendation in 3:4 functions as an incentive to others to be faithful and gain the reward of 3:5, thus it can be claimed that this is one way in which the commendations function throughout the letters. Vern S. Poythress, The Returning King – A Guide to the Book of Revelation, (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P & R Publishing, 2000) 91.
[10] Exodus 28: 9-12 & 29. Beale, Revelation, 252-3, also Bass, Back to the Future, 119, and also Chilton, Vengeance, 55.
[11] Bass, Back to the Future, 120, Beale, Revelation, 254.
[12] Chilton, Days of Vengeance, 55, my italics.
[13] Hence Beale, in arguing that 2:17 should be linked with 19:12ff. argues that “those who know Christ’s name share in his character and end-time power.” He also argues that the 21:2 description of the church as the New Jerusalem, together with 3:12 shows “that the name written on “overcomers” (3:12) becomes synonymous with their very identity.” Beale, Revelation, 254, 257-258.
[14] Bass sees the ‘new name’ idea as primarily concerning ownership. Beale relates it to ‘identification’ and the promise of ‘final reward’ to those who trust in Christ. Bass, Back to the Future, 120 and Beale, Revelation, 254-255. Cf. “Name”, DBI, 585-586.
[15] See, Isaiah 62:2 and 65:15. Beale, Revelation, 255-256.
[16] See e.g., Beale, Revelation, 253-254.
[17] See e.g., Numbers 6:22-27, Deuteronomy 28:7-10, Isaiah 43:6-7 & Daniel 9:19.
[18] Poythress, Returning King, 92. Cf. “Name”, DBI, 585-586.
[19] Beale suggests they are in fact one promise and should be understood this way. Beale, Revelation, 293.
[20] Exodus 3:13-14, Deuteronomy 28:10, 1 Kings 8:28-29, 11:36, Daniel 9:19. Cf. “Name”, DBI, 585.
[21] Beale, Revelation, 279-281.
[22] Beale, Revelation, 293-294 and Bass, Back to the Future, 140 and Dan Lioy, The Book of Revelation in Christological Focus, (Studies in Biblical Literature 58; New York: Peter Lang, 2003) 129.
[23] James B. Jordan, Through New Eyes – Developing a Biblical View of the World, (Brentwood, Tenn,: Wolgemuth and Hyatt, 1988) 129-131.
[24] Some have suggested that the entire Apocalypse should be read as a Covenant document either for renewal or lawsuit or both. Martyn Calvin Cowan, “New World, New Temple, New Worship – The Significance of a Preterist Reading of the book of Revelation for the theology and practice of Christian Worship”, (Unpublished diss., Oak Hill Theoligical College, 2004). Chilton, Vengeance, 18-24 and also David Field, “Covenant Structure and the Book of Revelation”, (Lecture Notes, Oak Hill Theological College, 2006) 5-9.
[25] Beale comments on the relation between Christ and the fulfilment of covenant promises. Beale, Revelation, 256.
[26] Wilcock suggests viewing these passages as a discrete section, containing a further cycle of seven visions. Michael Wilcock, The Message of Revelation – I Saw Heaven Opened, (BST; Leicester: IVP, 1991) 115.
[27] Poythress, Returning King, 17-19 & 139-140.
[28] Beale, Revelation, 684.
[29] Poythress, Returning King, 19-20 and Beale, Revelation, 716.
[30] Beale, Revelation, 717 and also Bass, Back to the Future, 316.
[31] Hence David Chilton suggests the passages about Rome speak of her “only in relation to the Covenant and the history of redemption.” Chilton, Vengeance, 135 & 139.
[32] Revelation 17:5.
[33] Poythress, Returning King, 21-22
[34] Lioy, Christological Focus, 151
[35] Poythress, Returning King, 23-24
[36] Cf. David Field, “Number”, (Lecture Notes, Oak Hill Theological College, 2006) 4 and also Poythress, Returning King, 147.
[37] Revelation 13:8 and 14:11 & Exodus 32:32-33.
[38] David Field, “Harlot”, 3.
[39] Bass, Back to the Future, 240-241 and Beale, Revelation, 502-503.
[40] Cf. “Name”, DBI, 582-3
[41] Revelation 13:4, 20:10 & 14-15
[42] Revelation 1:3

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