What Story does the Scroll tell?

What Story does the Scroll tell?

This is the first of two essays that I wrote during my Study Leave on Revelation.

Theses

The theses of this essay are:

  • the theme of ‘scroll’ may help us to understand the shape of the Book of Revelation?
  • that Revelation 11:19 to the end of the book, apart from the epistolary ending, tells the story of the scroll of 5:1 and 10:2.

Aims

  • To have a better grasp of how Revelation fits together.
  • To assist in the development of a narrative way of teaching the Book of Revelation.

Introduction

rev - unity or compositRevelation is a book of many complexities: the symbolism is complex, and perhaps some of it will never be fully understood by hearers in our time; the structure is complex, if structure there be – there is certainly no universally agreed structure, and nothing even like consensus beyond sections such as the letters to the seven churches. However, the more one reads (or hears) the book, the more evident are the various indicators in the text that things are moving on, such as the occasions when John writes about being ‘in the spirit.’

Another complexity is the identification of genre, or rather genres, of the book. Its author claims that it is an apocalypse, a letter and a prophecy, and it bears the hallmarks of all of these genres: connections can be made with Jewish apocalyptic writings; there is an epistolary beginning and ending, with a series of letters in the main body of the text; there are prophetic commendations and denunciations with accompanying blessings and warnings for the future, and it is steeped in the Old Testament, especially the prophetic traditions of Isaiah, Ezekiel and Daniel. However, one of the things we grasp in reading it over again and again, and which comes across clearly in the ‘narrative commentaries’ of scholars such as Barr and Ressiguie, is that Revelation has an unfolding story. Whatever disputes there are about ‘editions’ and ‘compilations,’ its threads and themes drive the narrative forward and hold the book together. Titles of Jesus, descriptions of phenomena that accompany events, and the like, recur throughout the book in such a way as to encourage us to refer back and forth, linking them in order to interpret them. Revelation is capable of being understood as a unity when we see it as an unfolding story with various episodes.

The remainder of this essay will focus on one of these themes, ‘scroll,’ to explore how it adds structure and shape to the book, and to seek to understand something of its significance for understanding the message of the whole book. Attention will be given to the following questions:

  • Where do instances of ‘scroll’ occur?
  • To what do these refer?
  • What are the contents of each ‘scroll’ referred to?
  • How do the instances of ‘scroll’ guide us in relation to the shape of the book?

john scrollThe Prophet’s Call – John’s Scroll

1:11  ὃ βλέπεις γράψον εἰς βιβλίον καὶ πέμψον ταῖς ἑπτὰ ἐκκλησίαις, εἰς Ἔφεσον καὶ εἰς Σμύρναν καὶ εἰς Πέργαμον καὶ εἰς Θυάτειρα καὶ εἰς Σάρδεις καὶ εἰς Φιλαδέλφειαν καὶ εἰς Λαοδίκειαν.

In the spirit on the Lord’s Day on the island of Patmos, John hears behind him a loud voice like a trumpet speaking to him. The voice tells him to write in a scroll what he sees and to send it to the seven churches named. When he turns to identify to whom the voice belongs, he falls at the speaker’s feet in a state of collapse, for from the description it at first appears that this is the ‘Ancient of Days,’ and who can live on seeing the face of God. But in fact the words of the one speaking make it clear it is the crucified, risen and glorified Jesus who is speaking and whose comforting arms reach out to take away his fear. John is to see and to bear witness to what he sees as the agent of Jesus himself by writing it in a scroll. This first instance of scroll and its context appear to be the writer’s prophetic call. Akin to prophets of old, like Isaiah, he has a visionary encounter with the divine and is given specific instruction about what to do: write what you see and communicate it.

That this instance of scroll refers to the whole book, including what has already been written in its introduction, is the most natural interpretation of the word. Write what you see (1:11), and he has already told us that he is bearing witness to all that he has seen (1:2). For the sake of clarity we will call what is encompassed in the whole book ‘John’s scroll.’

papyrus-sealed-with-seven-seals_1246685_inlIn the Throne Room – God’s Scroll

5:1. Καὶ εἶδον ἐπὶ τὴν δεξιὰν τοῦ καθημένου ἐπὶ τοῦ θρόνου βιβλίον γεγραμμένον ἔσωθεν καὶ ὄπισθεν κατεσφραγισμένον σφραγῖσιν ἑπτά.

In total, from 5:1 – 5:9, there are seven uses of ‘scroll,’ all using the same term and referring to the same writing.

Many interpreters of Revelation see the Throne Room scenes of chapters four and five as a crux point of the book. It has, literally, brilliant descriptions of the worship of heaven to the one sitting on the throne and to the slaughtered lamb (creation and redemption), reflecting how gatherings for the worship of God and the Lamb are foundational to the ecclesial experience of the seven (and all) churches. Of themselves, these scenes give us a rich theology of worship, creation and redemption. But how do they move the story along? What is their purpose in context? The brilliance of the picture of the one who sits on the throne heightens our expectation and the importance of the scene, but when all creation has given hymnic glory, the focus, like a zoom lens, is drawn to the scroll in God’s right hand. If this scroll is in this right hand, it must be of crucial importance to the hearers. And the importance is heightened even more when none is found worthy to break its seals. Are we to go without hearing and understanding what it contains? When the tears are rolling down John’s face, the tension for the first hearers would have been palpable. But the Lion/Lamb, the triumphant slaughtered one, is found worthy to break the seals of the scroll and relay its contents because he has died and redeemed by his death. The zoom lens follows the Lamb to the throne and then catches in full screen the handing over of the scroll from God to the Lamb.

While the main characters in these throne room scenes are God and the Lamb, it seems to me that the main narrative driver is the appearance of the scroll: its heightened importance being in the hand of God and the sole worthiness of the triumphant slaughtered lamb to unseal and see it, and then presumably to read (or have read) its contents to those gathered, all point to the scroll as a central and crucial theme in the book as a whole. Both the actions of opening and seeing are important here: the implication is that only when the lamb unseals the scroll and looks at its contents will these then be revealed to those within the vision, and thus to John’s hearers, who are now waiting with bated breath to know what it contains.

What is this scroll? There are several descriptors that help us understand its nature. It is held in the right hand of the one who sits on the throne, so ‘it presumably expresses the will of the God who holds it.’ Its seven seals underscore ‘the gravity of the contents.’[1] It has writing within and on the back, so it is a long, perhaps all encompassing, tale. Whoever opens and reads it must be a worthy ambassador of the one who sits on the throne, presenting it with the authority of the Almighty. As yet we have no clue to the scroll’s contents but there is no doubting its importance. For the sake of clarity we will call this ‘God’s scroll.’

From now on, the narrative of John’s scroll is dominated, in one way or another, by the content of God’s Scroll. But what are its contents? We must start first in the negative, understanding what they are not.

To identify what the scroll contains we need to be aware of how scrolls and seals work. Seals were used both to keep the contents of a scroll secret and to convey that these contents carry the weight of the authority of the one sending the scroll. Wax seals would often bear the impression of a writer’s signet ring. That this scroll has seven seals, the number of completion/perfection, indicates that the contents of the scroll are top secret, only to be revealed by the authorised agent of the Divine One in whose right hand it was held. To be able to read any of the contents, all the seals must be broken.

The implications of this for understanding the flow of Revelation are that the various series of sevens, beginning with the seven seals and ending, I believe, with the seven trumpets, do not and cannot convey the contents of God’s scroll. They are, in some way, preparatory, for the scroll is not fully open.

God’s Scroll and the ‘Cycles of Doom.’

If ‘scroll’ is a theme that will help us to understand the shape of Revelation, we need to ask how the contents of the various cycles of sevens up to the seven trumpets, what I will call the ‘cycles of doom,’[2] relate to God’s Scroll, and prepare us for the revelation of the contents of God’s Scroll.

On hearing the dramatic events of the cycles of doom, what would John’s audience think? I believe they would grasp that these cycles describe the way things are. They relate the experience of so many across the Mediterranean at that time (and indeed, of our own time): the clash of empires, war, famine, disease, catastrophes like the eruption of Vesuvius that rained fire and brimstone on cities, utterly destroying them and their populations. These descriptions were very recognisable to John’s hearers because they were part of recent and present experience (as they are in our own time in different manifestations). The presence of Roman Legions and the oppression of the Pax Romana were constant reminders of the way things are. The question is, what is God going to do about it? While through the intercalations in the cycles about the faithful witness of the Lamb, the martyr army and the two witnesses informs hearers that ultimate victory is assured, how is it going to come about and what is the metanarrative that conveys it? I believe the answers to these questions are found through understanding the significance of the ‘little scroll’ of 10:2ff.

mighty angelAnother Mighty Angel – the ‘Little Scroll’

10:1 – 2 Καὶ εἶδον ἄλλον ἄγγελον ἰσχυρὸν καταβαίνοντα ἐκ τοῦ οὐρανοῦ περιβεβλημένον νεφέλην, καὶ ἡ ἶρις ἐπὶ τῆς κεφαλῆς αὐτοῦ καὶ τὸ πρόσωπον αὐτοῦ ὡς ὁ ἥλιος καὶ οἱ πόδες αὐτοῦ ὡς στῦλοι πυρός, καὶ ἔχων ἐν τῇ χειρὶ αὐτοῦ βιβλαρίδιον ἠνεῳγμένον. καὶ ἔθηκεν τὸν πόδα αὐτοῦ τὸν δεξιὸν ἐπὶ τῆς θαλάσσης, τὸν δὲ εὐώνυμον ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς….

10:8 Καὶ ἡ φωνὴ ἣν ἤκουσα ἐκ τοῦ οὐρανοῦ πάλιν λαλοῦσαν μετ’ ἐμοῦ καὶ λέγουσαν· ὕπαγε λάβε τὸ βιβλίον τὸ ἠνεῳγμένον ἐν τῇ χειρὶ τοῦ ἀγγέλου τοῦ ἑστῶτος ἐπὶ τῆς θαλάσσης καὶ ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς.

In total, from 10:2 – 10:10, there are four instances of words for ‘scroll’: 10:2, 8, 9 and 10. Three of them (vv2, 9, 10) are βιβλαρίδιον, a (very) diminutive form that we have not yet come across, and one (v8) is βιβλίον, the same term as we have already encountered. It is unclear exactly what difference John is signalling by the use of this alternative term, ‘little scroll,’ but what is clear from the comparison of 10:2 and 10:8 is that he is using the different terms to refer to the same writing, made particularly clear by the parallel description of the angel who is holding it. So, what scroll is this?

There are indications in the text that John intends us to identify this scroll with the scroll unsealed by the lamb, this Lamb who is the Lion of the Tribe of Judah. The mighty angel roars with the voice of a lion, and thus is speaking on behalf of the Lion/Lamb. The voice from heaven, Jesus himself, speaks to John again (10:11): καὶ λέγουσίν μοι· δεῖ σε πάλιν προφητεῦσαι ἐπὶ λαοῖς καὶ ἔθνεσιν καὶ γλώσσαις καὶ βασιλεῦσιν πολλοῖς, an echo and variation on ἐκ πάσης φυλῆς καὶ γλώσσης καὶ λαοῦ καὶ ἔθνους καὶ ἐποίησας αὐτοὺς τῷ θεῷ ἡμῶν βασιλείαν καὶ ἱερεῖς (5:9f), for whom the Lamb was slaughtered and in which context God’s scroll is first encountered.

If there is shared identity between the scrolls of 5:1 and 10:2, or at least a correlation between them, do we as yet have any idea about the contents? There is a clue in 10:7: ἀλλ’ ἐν ταῖς ἡμέραις τῆς φωνῆς τοῦ ἑβδόμου ἀγγέλου, ὅταν μέλλῃ σαλπίζειν, καὶ ἐτελέσθη τὸ μυστήριον τοῦ θεοῦ, ὡς εὐηγγέλισεν τοὺς ἑαυτοῦ δούλους τοὺς προφήτας. This scroll in the hand of the mighty angel will unveil God’s gospel mystery in the days when the seventh trumpet is heard.

There are three important details in the encounters between John and Jesus, and John and the angel in 10:8-11 that will help us understand the significance of the little scroll and what its contents are. Firstly, John is instructed by the voice of Jesus to go and take the scroll. In this echo of his first commission, John’s prophetic task as the agent of Jesus is reaffirmed. Secondly, he is to eat the little scroll.[3] In other words, and in the tradition of the prophets, he is to make this message a part of himself. It will now shape who he is and what he does as he prophesies once more to the nations. Importantly, for understanding the contents of the scroll, it also means that, rather than hearing them directly from Jesus, we will now hear them mediated through John’s personality and visionary experience. Thirdly, the experience of eating this scroll was, for John, sweet and sour. The message he will convey is one of blessing and judgment.

It is also arguable that it is the scroll of 5:1 and 10:2 which is referred to in 1:1: Ἀποκάλυψις Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ ἣν ἔδωκεν αὐτῷ ὁ θεὸς δεῖξαι τοῖς δούλοις αὐτοῦ ἃ δεῖ γενέσθαι ἐν τάχει, καὶ ἐσήμανεν ἀποστείλας διὰ τοῦ ἀγγέλου αὐτοῦ τῷ δούλῳ αὐτοῦ Ἰωάννῃ, as God gives this revelation to Jesus, who gives it to an angel, who gives it to John, who gives it to his listeners. This is exactly the order in which we perceive the handling of the scroll in chapter ten.

Where, then, do these contents begin? Several commentators see 11:18 as the end of a major section in the book and that 11:19 (or 12:1, but 11:19 makes better sense) begins a new series of visionary experiences. The ‘sevens’ that dominated the book so far do not recur until the seven bowls of 15:1. I believe that 11:19 is the beginning of the contents of the scroll/little scroll – God’s Scroll, and that these convey a metanarrative of salvation that transforms and redeems ‘the way things are’ from the earlier cycles of doom. As John experienced, this will be a sweet and sour metanarrative, because it will include judgment, with the defeat and destruction of the forces of evil, as well as salvation, with the deliverance, victory and reigning of the Lamb’s martyr army.

If there is indeed a metanarrative from 11:19 onwards, what are its major elements?

new creationThe Story of God’s Scroll – Cosmic Battles and New Creation

The story on the surface of this long section is about cosmic battles, the fall of worldly empire and God’s new creation, but when we analyse the elements of it there are at least two stories also being told that are below the surface. (For a résumé of the entire narrative in tentative sections and sub-sections see Appendix 1.)

The first story is that of the Exodus. While there are important Patriarchal stories that predate the Exodus, it was such a formative and foundational experience for Israel that, ever after, her salvific experiences of God were frequently described in Exodus language.

It has often been noted that Revelation is replete with obvious and less obvious allusions to the traditions of the Exodus story (and later models of Exodus), but nowhere more so than in this section of the book. It begins with opening up the Temple (11:19, and again 15:5 where ‘tent’ is included) to focus on the Ark of the Covenant, a telling symbol of God’s faithfulness and covenant obligations during the Exodus and pilgrimage to the ‘promised land.’ There are also early references to:

  • Sinai-like disturbances of nature (11:19 et al);
  • Wilderness as a place of refuge (12:6);
  • Messiah/Lamb as deliverer from the slavery of Empire (passim);
  • Plagues similar to those in Egypt (15:1ff);
  • Those victorious over the beast standing beside the sea (15:2)
  • Victory song of Moses and the Lamb (15:3);
  • Lack of repentance (hardening of heart) after the plagues (16:9 & 11);
  • False signs performed (16:14).

Within the early part of this scroll’s story, John is wanting his readers to pick up on the Exodus traditions and they will then understand, ‘John is telling us the Exodus story in a new way! He must be prophesying that we will have a new Exodus experience that will deliver us and lead us to God’s promised land.’

The second story is that of Rome. It seems that the red dragon with seven heads/crowns and ten horns, is a symbol of Empire, but in the hearers context specifically Roman Empire. There are many other cryptic references to Rome, her armies and her Emperors, such as:

  • The beast from the sea with ten horns and seven heads (13:1);
  • The mortal wound in one of the heads that is miraculously healed (13:3);
  • The worship of the beast (passim);
  • The second beast from the land (13:11);
  • The mark and number of the beast, 666 (13:18);
  • References to Babylon, the conqueror of Jerusalem (passim);
  • References to colours and wealth (17:4);
  • References to persecution and threat of persecution (passim);
  • Seven heads as seven hills (17:9).

With Roman fleets on the water and armies on the land all across the Mediterranean, the worship of the Emperor cult on the rise, the destruction of Jerusalem in AD70, and the geographical and commercial references in the text, John’s hearers could not fail to pick up on the fact that the (present) enemies of God were to be found in the forces and structures of Rome. John’s hearers, seeing their own experiences reflected in this story, would take from it that while at present they suffered slavery, oppression, even death at the hands of Rome, it’s Empire would collapse (as all Empires will) and, as part of the Lamb’s army, they will be victorious.

Drawing, then, from Exodus traditions and contextualising them within the story of Rome, John gives comfort, hope and the assurance of victory to his listeners who are being faithful to the worship of God and the Lamb.

The climax to these stories comes in the parallel episodes at the end: the fall and destruction of Babylon/Rome, the mother of prostitutes dressed in purple and scarlet; the coming down from heaven of the Holy City, the New Jerusalem, the Bride of the Lamb dressed in white ready for her wedding. We discover, through John’s vision, a hope not simply of ‘promised land’ but of New Creation, the place where God will fully and finally dwell with his people, and to which the nations will come and be welcome.

If we ask if John could have told these stories in a more straightforward way, the answer would be yes, but we need to remember the political situation of his time, and that this apocalyptic genre was a more congenial way for him to tell them.

Invitations and warnings – instances of ‘scroll’ at the end of Revelation

22:9-10 καὶ λέγει μοι· ὅρα μή· σύνδουλός σού εἰμι καὶ τῶν ἀδελφῶν σου τῶν προφητῶν καὶ τῶν τηρούντων τοὺς λόγους τοῦ βιβλίου τούτου· τῷ θεῷ προσκύνησον. Καὶ λέγει μοι· μὴ σφραγίσῃς τοὺς λόγους τῆς προφητείας τοῦ βιβλίου τούτου, ὁ καιρὸς γὰρ ἐγγύς ἐστιν.

In total, in 20:7 – 20, our ‘usual’ word for ‘scroll’ occurs seven times, mostly in the form τοὺς λόγους τῆς προφητείας τοῦ βιβλίου τούτου.

As in chapter five, we find ‘scroll’ occurs seven times. There, it raised our awareness of the importance of this theme for understanding the story of the purposes of God; here, it draws that story to a conclusion, but not without first drawing us to respond to its invitation, ‘Come,’ and warning us not to add to or subtract from its contents. Both John’s Scroll and God’s Scroll have come to a climactic end with the hope of New Jerusalem and the promise, ‘I am coming soon.’

Conclusion

To return to the two theses: are they proved?

Having examined the way in which John uses the theme of ‘scroll,’ particularly as ‘God’s Scroll,’ I believe that there is no doubt it can be seen as an important marker of narrative structure. Its occurrences in chapter five raise our awareness of its importance with succeeding chapters preparing the way for the scroll’s complete unsealing; its use in chapter ten alerts us to the coming contents of God’s Scroll (however long we may perceive them); chapter twenty-two, with its seven uses parallel to chapter five, draw the story to a conclusion.

Given all the discussions there are around the structure of Revelation, had it been certain that 11:19 on relates the contents of God’s Scroll, it would have become a consensus view long before now. However, I do believe that what has been laid out in this essay at least makes the view plausible, and that it gives to us a tool to help readers and hearers make sense of a text that can be very difficult to understand in our times.

Appendix 1

Section Subdivision Narrative resumé
11:19 – 13:18

 

Dragons and Beasts – & a Messiah with his army of martyrs

11:19 – 12:6 ·       Heavenly Temple opened & ark of the covenant seen; earthly disturbances

·       woman clothed with the sun appears – about to give birth to child (Messiah)

·       Dragon pursues woman and child but they are snatched up to God’s throne

12:7 – 17 ·       War in heaven – Michael and angels fight the dragon and his angels, who are thrown down from heaven to earth

·       Hymn of rejoicing at defeat of dragon

·       Dragon continues to pursue woman, and, when she is rescued, then her other children

13:1 – 10 ·       Beast, with 7 heads, 10 horns & crowns, comes from the sea and is given power by the dragon

·       One head mortally wounded and recovers

·       People worship beast and dragon

·       Beast slanders God and blasphemes, waging war and winning against God’s holy people from across the world

·       God’s people need patient endurance – they will suffer

13:11 – 18 ·       Second beast comes from the earth: horns like lamb, voice like dragon

·       This beast exercised authority of first beast, doing signs, having image of first beast set up and causing it to speak

·       All who failed to worship the image were killed

·       People were given a mark of this beast on right hands or foreheads

·       Number of beast is 666

14:1 – 5 ·       Lamb standing on Mt Zion with 144,000

·       They have the name of the Lamb and his Father on their foreheads

·       144,000 sing a new song before the throne

·       They are virgins and have not defiled themselves, they are holy and follow the Lamb wherever he goes

Eternal Gospel declared and the fall of Babylon the Great 14:6 – 13 ·       First Angel proclaims the eternal gospel to all on earth

·       Appeals to all to fear God, give him glory and worship the creator, for the hour of his judgment has come

·       Second angel declares that Babylon the Great has fallen

·       Third angel declares that all who worship the beast and receive its mark will drink the cup of the wrath of God

·       Calls for patient endurance of God’s people

·       John called to write, ‘Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.’

14:14 – 20 ·       One like a son of man called by and angel to reap the harvest of the earth

·       Another angel called (by another angel!) to harvest the earth’s grapes

·       The grapes are thrown in the winepress of God’s wrath and the blood (red grape juice) was as high as a horse’s bridle for 1600 stadia

15:1 – 16:21 ·       Sign in heaven: seven angels with seven last plagues

·       Those victorious over the beast stand by the sea like glass singing the song of Moses and the Lamb

·       Heavenly temple – ie the tabernacle of the covenant law – opened

·       Seven angels with plagues come out of the temple

·       One of the four living creatures gives the seven angels bowls full of God’s wrath

·       Six angels pour out their bowls, but people refuse to repent

·       Seventh angel pours contents of bowl into the air – voice: it is done

·       Earthly disturbances including worst ever earthquake, splitting the great city into three

·       Babylon the Great is given the cup of the fury of God’s wrath

·       People curse God for the plague of hail

17:1 – 18 ·       John is carried in spirit to see the state of Babylon the Great, mother of prostitutes

·       This woman sitting on red beast clothed with finery drinking abominable things, and drunk on the blood of God’s people

·       Mystery of woman and beast interpreted to John

·       Angel declares that the ten kings will wage war on the Lamb, but the Lamb and his followers will win

·       The beast and the kings will turn on the prostitute

18:1 – 24 ·       Another angel comes down from heaven and declares that Babylon the Great has fallen

·       God’s people warned to come out of Babylon and not share in her sins

·       Kings who were her partners will stand far away and watch her destruction

·       Hymn of rejoicing sung at the finality of Babylon’s doom

·       Angel prophesies the violence and finality of the city’s doom, and her on-going desolation

Victory of the Lamb and the judgment of his enemies 19:1 – 10 ·       Great multitude in heaven shout three Hallelujahs

·       Voice calls to praise God

·       Multitude cry out Hallelujah again, rejoice in the reign of God and that the wedding of the Lamb has come

·       Lamb’s bride dressed in fine linen – righteous acts of God’s people

·       Blessed are those invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb

19:11 – 21 ·       White horse, with rider called Faithful and True, wages war with justice

·       His robe is dipped in blood; called Word of God

·       Armies of heaven follow him, dressed in fine linen

·       Called king of kings and lord of lords

·       He will rule and tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty

·       Angel invites birds to come to God’s great supper, and get ready to feast on the carrion of battle

·       Beast and kings wage war on the rider and his army

·       Beast and kings are defeated, beast and false prophet thrown into the fiery lake of burning sulphur

·       The rest were killed with the sword coming from the mouth of the rider and the birds feast on their flesh

20:1 – 15 ·       Angel seizes and binds the dragon, throws him into the abyss and seals it for 1000 years

·       John sees thrones on which were seated those given authority to judge

·       John see the souls of those beheaded as witnesses for Jesus – they come to life and reign with him for 1000 years – first resurrection

·       After 1000 years, Satan is released for one last battle against God’s people, but fire devoured them as they besieged his city

·       The devil joins the beast and false prophet in the lake of burning sulphur

·       John sees Great White Throne before which all the dead stand

·       Records of their lives are opened and they are judged accordingly

·       The Scroll of Life is also opened and those not found written in it are thrown into the lake of fire

·       Death and Hades are also thrown into the lake of fire

·       The lake of fire is the second death

Bride of the Lamb, the Holy City, New Jerusalem, New Creation 21:1 – 8 ·       John sees new heaven and new earth – first passed away

·       Holy City, New Jerusalem comes down from heaven

·       God dwells with people and will be their God – death all like it are no more

·       One on the throne will make everything new

·       All who thirst will freely receive the water of life

·       The victorious will inherit all this and God will be their God

·       Others (described) will be consigned to the lake of fire, the second death

21:9 – 22:5 ·       John is taken to see the bride of the Lamb, the Holy City, New Jerusalem

·       It shone with the glory of God, high walls, 12 gates with names of the 12 tribes of Israel, each made of a single pearl

·       Laid out foursquare, cube-like, 12 foundations of walls bear the names of the apostles of the Lamb and are decorated with 12 gemstones

·       Streets of city are pure gold

·       No temple – God is ever present, giving the light of glory to it

·       Nations will walk by its light and kings will come to give honour

·       Gates always open, nations will be brought into the city, but nothing impure will enter it

·       River of the water of life will flow from the throne of God and the Lamb

·       The tree of life will grow by the river, produce monthly crops and bring healing to the nations

·       No sun or moon for God will give them light and they will reign for ever

For Completion

 

Scroll’s ending: invitation, blessings and warnings

22:6 – 21 ·       Angel (Jesus) tells John of the trustworthiness of what he has heard

·       Angel (Jesus) says ‘I am coming soon’ and that those who keep the words of the prophecy are blessed

·       John told not to seal up the words of the prophecy of this scroll

·       Promise of coming soon with reward

·       Blessed are those who wash their robes – access to tree of life

·       Invitation to come and receive the water of life

·       Warning not to add or subtract from the prophetic words of the scroll

·       Assurance of coming soon and prayer for that coming

Appendix 2

Other instances of ‘scroll’ in the body of the text.

There are other instances of ‘scroll’ in the body of the text, but none of them refer either to John’s scroll or God’s scroll. On the face of it, they have little or no structural significance but we mention them here for the sake of completeness.

6:14 καὶ ὁ οὐρανὸς ἀπεχωρίσθη ὡς βιβλίον ἑλισσόμενον καὶ πᾶν ὄρος καὶ νῆσος ἐκ τῶν τόπων αὐτῶν ἐκινήθησαν.

Here, as part of the cosmic disturbance of the opening of the sixth seal, the heavens disappear like a scroll being rolled up. It is a dramatic metaphor for the speed with which things will change.

20:12 καὶ εἶδον τοὺς νεκρούς, τοὺς μεγάλους καὶ τοὺς μικρούς, ἑστῶτας ἐνώπιον τοῦ θρόνου. καὶ βιβλία ἠνοίχθησαν, καὶ ἄλλο βιβλίον ἠνοίχθη, ὅ ἐστιν τῆς ζωῆς, καὶ ἐκρίθησαν οἱ νεκροὶ ἐκ τῶν γεγραμμένων ἐν τοῖς βιβλίοις κατὰ τὰ ἔργα αὐτῶν.

When the raised dead face the one sitting on the great white throne, scrolls are opened in order to judge their deeds. We might call these ‘the ledgers of life.’ But then another scroll is opened, called ‘the scroll of life’, which appears to be a list of the citizens of the New Jerusalem. The term ‘scroll of life’ also occurs at 3:5, 13:8, 17:8 and 20:15.

While germane to the details of the plot of the story, none of these instances appear to be major structural narrative markers.

Select Bibliography

Commentaries on Revelation

Barr, David L., Tales of the End: A Narrative Commentary on the Book of Revelation, Salem: Polebridge Press, 2nd ed. 2012.

Beale, G. K., The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text (NIGTC), Grand Rapids/Carlisle: Eerdmans/Paternoster, 1999.

Blount, Brian K. Revelation: A Commentary. NTL. Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2009.

Boxall, Ian. The Revelation of St. John. BNTC. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2006.

Koester, Craig R., Revelation: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary, New Haven/ London: Yale University Press, 2014.

Osborne, Grant R. Revelation. BECNT. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002.

Reddish, Mitchell G., Revelation, Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2001.

Resseguie, James L. The Revelation of John: A Narrative Commentary. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2009.

Roloff, Jürgen, Revelation: A Continental Commentary, Minnneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993.

Schüssler Fiorenza, Elisabeth, Revelation: Vision of a Just World, Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 1991.

Smalley, Stephen S. The Revelation to John: A Commentary on the Greek Text of the Apocalypse. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2005.

Other works

Bauckham, Richard J. The Climax of Prophecy: Studies on the Book of Revelation. Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1993

Beale, G. K., John’s Use of the Old Testament, London/New York: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 1998.

Collins, John J., The Apocalyptic Imagination: An Introduction to Jewish Apocalyptic Literature, Grand Rapids/Cambridge: Eerdmans, 2ed 1998.

deSilva, David A., Seeing Things John’s Way: The Rhetoric of the Book of Revelation, Louisville: WJKP, 2009.

Gallusz, Laszlo, The Throne Motif in the Book of Revelation, London/New York: Bloombury T&T Clark 2014.

Gorman, Michael J., Reading Revelation Responsibly: Uncivil Worship and Witness: Following the Lamb Into the New Creation, Eugene: Cascade Books, 2011.

Koester, Craig R., Revelation and the End of All Things, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2001.

Moyise, Steve, The Old Testament in the Book of Revelation, London/New York: Bloombury T&T Clark 1995.

[1] Koester (2014) 383.

[2] This is not to deny that within these cycles there is grace and patience to give people time to repent, but the dominant theme is that of disaster.

[3] Perhaps this is the reason that John uses the diminutive!

About Jared Hay

I'm minister of Priestfield Church in Edinburgh (Church of Scotland), husband of Jane, father of two adult children and am interested in sharing ideas and information through this blog.
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