Are we in the ‘end times’?

Yesterday I was the guest on the hour-long ‘Bible surgery’ on Premier Christian Radio, hosted by Maria Rodrigues and recorded over Zoom. It was the first time that I had worked with Maria, and she is a lovely person!

Although the programme was an hour long, with songs and breaks my contribution was about 35 minutes in total. You can listen to it here.

In response to questions, we discussed:

o.oo My own encounter with the issues in my Christian journey.

2.38 Does the Bible teach the doctrine of the ‘Rapture‘, when Christians will be secretly whisked away to heaven by Jesus?

I have commented on this at length in several articles, including this one on the relevant reading from Matt 24, where I note:

The comparison with the ‘days of Noah’ contains a simple logical structure which, because of assumptions we make about the passage, it is easy to miss. In the days of Noah, most people were unaware of the coming judgement, and were pre-occupied with the mundane realities of life, as if these were all that mattered. When the flood came, they were taken away, whilst Noah and has family, having taken notice of God and made ready, remained behind in the ark and stayed to repopulate the earth. In the same way, people will be pre-occupied with the mundane realities of life, as if these were all that mattered, but when Jesus returns they will be swept away in judgement. Those who follow the teaching of Jesus and have made ready will be left behind to receive and live in the coming kingdom, the New Jerusalem which will come from heaven to earth (Rev 21).

The logic of this is quite clear: in the days of Noah, it was the wicked facing judgement who were swept away, and the righteous who were left. In the same way it will be those absorbed with this life who will be swept away, whilst those who are ready for Jesus will be left behind.

Therefore I want to be left behind, and you should too. 

8.05 Will Jesus come down to Jerusalem, so will those of us in the UK miss out?

This is the comment I make in my IVP commentary on the Book of Revelation on the beginning of chapter 21:

As John’s report of what he has seen unfolds, the contrasts and connections with earlier parts of his vision report become more muted, especially those connected with judgement, but continue to be present. The details of the bride-city offer a clear contrast with the depiction of ‘Babylon’ earlier, but John is content to allow us to notice these for ourselves, rather than drawing attention to them. 

He does his theology through numbers, structures and lists as he has done at key points earlier in the text, especially in Rev. 7–13. This extraordinary (and, literally speaking, impossible) giant cube-city is a new holy of holies, not one that is a single part of a single temple in a single city in a single country in the world, but encompassing the world itself of John’s day. This is the holy presence of God on a truly cosmic scale. As with his first vision of heavenly worship in Rev. 4, the exact details of what John sees are impossible to make sense of – but their multiple significance is to be found in his re-use of Old Testament imagery. This city is not just the counter-point to all failed human aspiration to transcendence and significance (‘to make a name for ourselves’, Gen. 11:4) but fulfils the specific hope of the people of God as they longed to see themselves returned home from exile and longed to see God’s name glorified once more. 

The city that shines with the glory of God is (with its walls reaching to the skies) the ultimate place of security and peace. Its splendour and magnificence are without compare, dwarfing all human measures of extravagance. It is the home for the beautifully adorned bride of the lamb; it is the home of the priestly people of God; it is the place where the created order is restored to its original splendour. 

12.06 What is the mark of the beast, and will it be obvious to us that something is the mark of the beast?

In my article on the mark of beast I observe:

There are a few things worth noting here immediately. The first is that John is not here offering an esoteric and mysterious code which requires secret knowledge to unlock. The phrase ‘this calls for wisdom’ is echoed later in Rev 17.9, when we are told about the identity of the Great Whore of Babylon: ‘The seven heads are seven hills on which the woman sits.’ This is a clear reference to the seven hills of Rome; it is not a secret! In the same way, it is reasonable to assume that John expected his readers to understand clearly what he was referring to.

This leads to the second observation. Quite a few commentators argue that we should not try and work out what the number stands for; it is symbolic, and its threefold ‘6’ suggests a falling short and imperfection, in contrast with the number 7 which is associated with God. In fact, 7 is a number of completeness rather than holiness, and the problem with this argument is that it contradicts the plain sense of the text, which in fact tells us to ‘calculate’, to work it out (the verb is psephizo, so you might imagine I have an interest in it!).

Thirdly, another thing which is often missed by commentators is that this mark cannot be interpreted separately from making sense of the ‘seal’ which is put on the foreheads of the 144,000 servants of God in Rev 7.3 (though the act of this sealing is never in fact recounted). Chapter 14 offers two juxtaposed scenes—of the 144,000 who have been sealed enjoying the presence of God, and the rest of humanity who have the mark of the beast facing the judgement of God. In other words, the two marks or seals divide humanity completely into two distinct groups, the saved and the judged. You either have the seal of God, or the mark of the beast; you cannot have both or neither. This is part of the text’s general strategy to raised the stakes in terms of the readers’ relationship with their culture; it is often less about comforting the oppressed, as much as challenging the comfortable to realise that they cannot compromise in their discipleship.

18.00 Is the 144,000 in Rev 7 those who are saved? If so, will most Christians miss out?

In my commentary on Rev 7 I summarise the theology as follows:

John’s vision here offers a three-fold picture of the people of God which are interrelated. The first is of a people looking like an army ready for spiritual warfare as they endure the intermediate time between their release from slavery and before their entry into the promised land, recast by John to refer to the period from Jesus’ death, resurrection and exaltation until his return and the renewal of all things. The second is of this people Israel now drawn from all nations of the earth, ‘out of every nation’ in terms of having members from every nation rather than being a nation set apart by national and ethnic boundaries. They are a people caught up in the praise of the one on the throne and of the lamb that we encountered in Rev. 4–5. The third portrait is of this people having come through intense suffering – not the suffering brought about by God’s wrath and judgement, but the ‘tribulation’ that comes from staying faithful to the testimony of the lamb who was slain in the face of relentless opposition. They are protected from divine judgement, but nevertheless endure suffering at the hands of human power; chapters 6 and 7 together function as a narrative exposition of Jesus injunction in Matt. 10:28. ‘do not fear those who harm the body, but God who can destroy the soul’.

Together, these portraits give us a picture of a people in receipt of God’s grace and responding to it. In contrast to those who, in desperation, cry to the rocks and mountains for protection (6:16), the servants of God wait for the gift of protection that comes from God’s sealing of them. They stand in white before the throne because of the gift of the blood of the lamb, by which they have been purchased as a kingdom of priests for God (5:9). And their response to this gift is to remain faithful, just as Jesus did, and be ready to live a disciplined life of obedience. The holy warfare for which they are prepared is their non-violent witness to Jesus, even to the point of death. 

24.10 If the Book of Revelation is written for the first century, why are we reading it now? What is its relevance?

In my section on ‘What kind of text is Revelation?’ I note its three primary genres:

First, it is an apocalypse, that is, a revelation from God. John is claiming to offer us a perspective on the world that we could not work out for ourselves, and so we need to pay attention, to look and listen. This is emphasized in his repeated interjection of ‘Behold!’ (26 times, from 1:7 through to 22:12). Such ‘revelation’ is in fact at the heart of the Christian faith, and the verb apokalypto is used repeatedly by Paul to describe how the good news has come to us (Rom. 1:17, 8:18, 1 Cor. 2:10, Gal. 3:23, Eph. 3:5 and so on). 

Secondly, what John writes is a letter, clearly communicated in the epistolary markers in Rev. 1 which offer close parallels to the style of Paul’s letters, and the closing epistolary comments which also echo Paul. Letters are written to particular people living in a particular time and place, and taking Revelation seriously as a letter means reading it in its historical and cultural context just as we would any other letter in the New Testament. John knew his readers who lived in the province of Asia, and he appears to have expected them to understand what he wrote.

Third,  Revelation claims to be a prophecy, a word used seven times in the book, five times emphatically  describing what John has written (1:3, 22:7, 10, 18, 19). Prophecy is less concerned with predicting the future in any abstract sense, and more concerned with communicating God’s message, calling people to obedience by highlighting the consequences of their actions and the new possibilities offered by repentance and obedience. Having made sense of Revelation by reading and listening carefully, we then need to respond to what John reveals about the world we live in by keeping faith with Jesus, the word of God.

28.48 Why does thinking about eschatology matter?

I explore this in the final chapter of my Grove booklet, Kingdom, Hope and the End of the Worldwhich I reproduce in this post on the pastoral importance of eschatology.

30.24 We currently have corrupt government, merchants exploiting the system, massive environmental damage—does this show we are in the end times predicted by Jesus?

I offer this summary in my section on the theological themes of Revelation in the introduction to the commentary:

The rhetorical goal of John’s writing – for his first readers as well as for subsequent generations – is that they should be motivated and equipped to live as mature disciples of Jesus. The central element of this is to be a ‘faithful witness’ as Jesus was, living a life of ‘patient endurance’ (1:9) in the face of opposition and difficulty, but motivated by a clearer understanding of the ‘kingdom’ that is ours in Jesus. It is this ‘quietist’ approach, involving non-violent resistance to the forces of imperial conformity, which constitutes true victory, trusting as it does in God’s ultimate power and justice for vindication. This is a life that is lived in constant anticipation, always looking forwards to the promised end, so that the present becomes shaped by the hope of the future. As in Paul’s understanding (seen, for example, in his description of baptism and resurrection in Romans 6), the saints are already beginning to live the resurrection life – they are already casting their crowns before the throne of God since they are already ‘dwellers in heaven’ – and this is to be lived out in their various contexts on earth until the final and definitive visitation of God’s presence in the form of the holy city that descends from heaven. In Revelation, being a disciple is about living in the ‘now’ as well as the ‘not yet’ of expectation, with the former decisively shaped by the latter. 

I hope you enjoy the broadcast!

You can buy my Grove booklet on eschatology (post free in the UK) at the Grove website here.

You can buy my commentary on Revelation from IVP here or any good bookstore.

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136 thoughts on “Are we in the ‘end times’?”

  1. To be ‘found in Him’ = to stand when all around has fallen, to be left in the crucible after the dross is skimmed off.
    The idea of a rapture in popular mythology does not resonate in the bible except for being snatched from the fire like a burning stick perhaps.
    Thanks Ian,

  2. Regarding the mark of the beast
    I am struck by the literal evidence that we are all marked with the mark of the beast in that we do buy and sell – we are all caught up in some way, more potent and or more exploited in the commerce of Babylon in the following chapters. Even the Anabaptist separatists from the world are not fully separate. Not conformed but transformed is Paul’s challenge, but equally not removed from or uninvolved in.
    I wonder if there is less dichotomy between the “in” and the “out” and in fact a greater tension for believers – we are necessarily in this marked world. I think this is what Jacques Ellul, that provocative French Protestant was getting at when he speaks about necessity and freedom from necessity. It also maybe unpacks the tension of the both and – what gets rendered to Caesar and what to God.
    If we begin with the view that it is either-or, of course we will read it that way, but I am not sure it is necessarily, nor whether it is actually helpful to read it in this way. Real-life experience suggests we know this tension and live with it, struggling or not.

    • I was preaching about the Shema recently, and came across the idea that the number of the beast on the forehead goes straight back to Deuteronomy 6:8, “Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads,” referring to the law. Perhaps it is a sign of complete commitment, as the Shema and following verses encourage?

      • It is the counterpoint to the seal of God, which then becomes the name of God and the lamb, and in Rev 22.4 becomes the nameplate of God on each one after the pattern of the high priest in the Holy of Holies.

    • Peter, yes I agree that it is more complex than this—and John in Revelation fails to resolve this for us. That is because he is writing to people who are perhaps already too integrated, and he writes to *create* tension that needs to be there.

      • I wonder if you can expand on this as it seems to me to be critical / crucial for the interpreting of texts – to what extent he is introducing tension and where, and when he is giving greater clarity. Some are happy with symbols, signs, metaphors which create a dissonance deliberately pointing in two ways and some are definitely not.
        I wonder too to what extent this is equally or less true of other NT texts.
        Thanks too for being the host where thoughts can be shared and tested (fairly) safely.

  3. Ah the true bliss of being so sure! I think there may well be clear evidence of some form of rapture. But like most of these matters would take aeons to debate it fully !

    • Confidence comes from repeated reading the text, with care, in its context. I am always happy to be proved wrong if someone can point out something in the text I have missed. I have revised my view in the past for that reason; do feel free to challenge. The texts are not long, so it should not be difficult.

      • I mentioned ages ago that on a Roman abacus 6 stands for a half. Could be wrong. It could then mean, in a commercial setting, half a half a half or a tiny fraction…perhaps

        • Is not the important fact that the number is not 6, 6 & 6, but six hundred and sixty six, which is quite different? I think those Greek manuscripts which do not spell the number out in full use the (different) Greek letters representing 600, 60 and 6.

          • That is true. Therefore the idea that it represents a trinity of evil, (one less than 7) is not valid either. Personally I’m not keen on gematria either, that is making a name add up to 666. Lots of hot air is expelled on adding up notable personalities’ names in a vain attempt to ID the beast!
            The statue in Daniel is curiously 60 x 6 cubits and Solomon had an income of 666 talents of gold per annum. 2 Chronicles 9:13
            Solomon brought Babylonian religion into Jerusalem, horses, chariots, wives and gold. I think 666 simply means apostacy. Therefore we are to look out for a religious system that looks like, feels like, smells like the real thing– but isn’t.

          • Yes I think Ian Paul has made a strong case for Nero being the beast to whom John refers. The fact that another early manuscript sites it as 616 is further evidence, having spelled it Nero Caesar rather than John’s Neron Caesar. It literally adds up to his name, a man’s name just as John says.

            It makes sense that John would not explicitly name a Roman Emperor as a ‘beast’ – could you imagine the further persecution if his letter was intercepted, or someone relayed what he had said to churches!

            It reminds me of why Mark undoubtedly did not explicitly name the Jewish High Priest under whose authority Jesus was killed, knowing the influence the family of Caiaphas had at the time. It is left to John, writing later, to specifically name him.


      • Yet it is possible to be extremely confident and wrong. In the case of the timing of the rapture I think you (Ian) are right, but confidence is no marker of correctness.

    • There is a Blessed Assurance that we can sing about, which we don’t have aeons to debate. It is lifetime limited or it is too late.

    • I am no expert in these things, but I think that the ‘rapture’ (not a Biblical word, of course) is some conflation of unrelated things. Part is the “some shall be taken and some left” language which is pastorally problematic. Years ago I had a girlfriend whose parents had a Brethren background. She told of occasions waking in the night when she thought the quiet was that others had been ‘taken’ and she left behind.

      This is then combined with 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17. I think Tom Wright has pointed out that in the 1st Century, that an important person (e.g. a provincial governor) would engage in a ‘parousia’ somewhere in his domain, i.e. visiting towns. It would be dishonoring him for him to turn up at the gates. The leading men of the town would come out of the town to meet him on the way, and then conduct him to the town.

      In these verses the ‘coming’ of the Lord is the word ‘parousia’. This strongly suggests that the ‘meeting in the air’ is the faithful meeting their Lord and then returning to the Earth with him.

      • Harpagesometha 1 Thess 4.17 is ‘we will be caught away’ – so there is no initiative of the believers here, only of Christ.
        Mention of clouds would also more naturally attend some ascension event than a toing and froing event.
        Also a toing and froing would be a bit messy.
        And it is not as though the Lord would require it.
        And how would it be achieved? – as levitation is not a power believers possess.

        If it is dishonouring for him to turn up at the gates by himself, it is nevertheless promised that that is what he will do, and of his own initiative, in both James 5.9 and Mark 13.29 (cf. Rev 3.20).

        Most likely (as so often in eschatology) different passages seem on the face of it to give marginally different pictures.

          • Hi Simon

            It is certain that the biblical references will be desired to form into one coherent picture and narrative. So each one is fitted in as best can be.

            Jesus stood, lodged and rode in and around the Mount and also habituated it. The splitting of the Mount in Zechariah looks sure to be part of the same event referred to within the Zech 14.1 ‘Day of the Lord’ rather than anything subsequent. This is certainly very interesting, because Jesus when he kills the figtree in that same area also speaks about the mountain being moved (a far more striking image than we give it credit for, since we have become accustomed to it). In context this looks to be about judgment on the Jewish temple. Incigneri’s excellent study sees this within a big framework of the end of the former mountaintop temple sanctuary, which had always been the place of atonement, and its replacement by the local fellowship as locus of forgiveness (Mark 11.25).

            Then there is a dispute about Zech 14.21 whether there shall no longer be a trader or no longer be a Canaanite in the temple. The 2 words have the same spelling (consonantally). Septuagint understood ‘Canaanite’.
            If ‘there shall no longer be a trader’, that would make Mark 11.1-25 even more Zecharian, and Jesus’s aims here coherently Zecharian.

          • However, since Zech requires the Mount of Olives to be split, whereas the interests of Mark here look more likely to require Mount Zion to be removed or replaced or redundant, we need to ascertain which particular mountain is suffering here.

            The only way I can find of Jesus/Mark having Zech in mind regarding the splitting of the mountain is that Jesus is referring to the Mount of Olives throughout, with no reference to Mount Zion.
            He says ‘this mountain’ because that is the mountain he is on at the time (makes sense). He uses its hypothetical removal as an indicator/measure of the extreme power of faith, rather than out of any animosity against the Mount of Olives.
            Maybe he is saying that whereas we marvel at the cursing of a mountain figtree, faith can transform/transplant the entire mountain not just one of the figtrees on it.

          • Forgive me for being dull
            so, Ian & Christopher – do you understand part or all of Zechariah 14 to already have been fulfilled in Jesus ministry?

          • At present my previous answer stands; I have not got as far as yes/no and am doubtful whether any more accurate answer than ‘in part’ can be justified by anyone.

            If Jesus understood Zech 14.21 as ‘traders’ then his very specific temple action probably stems from his determination to fulfil (God’s will in) Zechariah.

            The other parts of Zechariah 14 in Jesus’s programme remain intriguing:
            -Jesus’s community was initially based at Bethany in the region of the Mount of Olives rather than Jerusalem. Maybe therefore his preferred site of the Mount of Olives (with which also Melito associated Mary) was effectively his alternative mountain supplanting Mount Zion, where the old manifestation of Israel was doomed/cursed and the promise of a new way of forgiveness was given. In that circumstance, he would have been referring to Zion being effectively cast into the sea, and he clearly understood it to have been supplanted by a new temple.
            -It is also in this region that Jesus prayed in John for unity – whether or not this recalls ‘The Lord shall be one and His Name shall be one.’. ‘Name’ is important in Jn 17.
            -Some think Jesus was crucified on the Mount of Olives which will have been a good location to make a public example of the victims. The river of Zech 14 might then in biblical theology map onto the atoning fountain of Zech 13.1. But I rarely find that these things fit together neatly. Edifying theology can be made of the flowing fissure in the Mount of Olives and in Jesus’s side, though that says nothing of whether that fits Jesus’s message and intention or not.

          • Simon, Jesus did not completely fulfil *any* set of OT prophecies, because of the ‘split eschatology’ of the NT. He definitely began to fulfil them, but they will not be completely fulfilled until he comes again.

            He is the prince of peace—but that reign of peace is not yet seen. He has been given an everlasting kingdom—but that kingdom has yet to be consummated. He has drawn all nations to ‘Jerusalem’, but not all nations yet bow the knee.

            This is the reason why not all of the Jews recognised him as Messiah. He was raised from the dead, but the general resurrection is yet to come.

          • I should say that the reader would initially make a connection between being in the clouds and being in the air since these two exist at the same level. So the possible objection would be that the clouds and air being at the same level is too much of a coincidence (as well as, secondly, ‘in the air’ now becoming harder to understand).

          • Since the cloud came down on Jesus during the transfiguration I would go one further and say the cloud represents the father.

            The cloud came down on Solomon’s temple. Cloud =father. Temple=Jesus. Again, the One seated on the Cloud in Revelation with a crown= Jesus, Father and crown- Holy Spirit.

  4. Thanks Ian – enjoyed this
    especially liked your treatment of the parousia/rapture
    so, to be clear, do you not think Jesus will return to a literal Jerusalem?
    and if not there, where?

    • No I don’t. The NT repeatedly says ‘every eye will see him’, so I am not sure why we need to look to Google Maps to work out where he will be!

      If our present bodies are related to our resurrection bodies as a seed is to the plant it produces (John 12, 1 Cor 15), what will this new creation look like? I have no idea.

      • Hi Ian – thanks for replying – we dont need google maps to know where his return is (mount of olives) and the reign is from (Mount Zion)

        Well you are clear that he wont return to where I think the Bible says he will – but you are less clear where you think he will return to??? In your radio interview you emphasised the physicality of his return and even the principle of his spatiality – but didnt say where…. exactly

        I wonder if you might say more about your understanding of how will all see him – On TV? on the internet/smart phones? At the same time? Brought before him on judgment day? Any idea where & how?

        If your view of parousia is meeting him in the air and bringing the king home – who of us meets him and brings him exactly where?

        You are clear on what you dont believe about the Parousia, but I am still not sure what you do believe.

      • I believe that our resurrection bodies will be to our present bodies as a plant or tree is to the seed that gave rise to it.

        If this is the case for our bodies, what must it mean for the new heavens and earth? The New Jerusalem is described in geographical and architectural terms, but these are surely symbolic of the theological meaning of God’s present with his perfected people in Jesus—isn’t it?

        So how can we talk of ‘location’ when God will be with *all* his people, in intimate fellowship with every one…?

        • Of the day of judgment it says we will all ‘appear before him’- brought before him – and then judged and sentenced, sent one way or welcomed into another – this surely suggests we will not be appearing/brought and remain all together in one place – the prepositions surely imply some sense of spatiality and geography and dimension to this??? And if not all the billions of us at the same time in the same place in his immediate presence, we must surely be somewhere else?

          We will be ‘with him’ forever in heaven one earth, but that with does not to me suggest immediacy – all the myriad of saints wont all fit on Mt Zion 🙂

          am I missing or misunderstanding something Ian?

          • I just don’t really understand your concern (obsession?) with literal geography and literal chronology in the Age to Come. I think things will be quite different then…!

            The vision of the NT for the age to come is much less mundane that other views.

  5. Understanding end times prophecy is difficult. There are clear statements in the Gospels, there are references to the last days in the pastoral letters, and there are any number of theories as to what happens when.
    Some facets of the end times programme are as difficult for me to understand as a railway time table. So I accept it all by faith. It will happen. Jesus will return. He will reign for a thousand years. Then other things will happen.
    We the Body of Christ, will give an account of ourselves at some point. Our Lord will pass judgement on all who have ever lived at some point. Some people will be punished forever, and the ones who pleased God will have eternal life…

    I stick with this verse from the parable of the faithful servant, Matthew 24: 36-51..
    “Who then is the faithful and wise servant,[c] whom his master has set over his household, to give them their food at the proper time? 46 Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes.”

    • Well, that is the verse to stick with. Jesus’ repeated emphasis is that he will come ‘like a thief in the night’, or like a man delayed on a long journey who returns ‘at an unexpected moment’, or like lightning that strikes unexpectedly.

      The idea that thieves, masters returning, or lightning come following a timetable is just daft—so perhaps all such timetables are barking up the wrong eschatological tree?

      • I don’t know. I remember in YWAM back in the ’70s someone asked Loren Cunningham where he stood on the Rapture. Was he a pre-Millenialist or an a-Millenialist?
        Loren said he thought he was a ‘pan-Millenialist’. That everything would pan out okay in the end! Always stuck with me.
        In my early years as a Christian I attended my mother’s Gospel Hall. Lovely humble evangelical Christians, hot on prophecy. I think the founding of the State of Israel was a real turning point in God’s overarching plan for our world (I don’t accept Replacement theology).
        Other than that I think the goal of every Christian should be to be disciples enabled by the Holy Spirit, and play our part with all humility in God’s wonderful plan of redemption.

  6. Ian,
    I’m not looking to hijack your article, and I don’t even know whether this is correct as I’ve not read it, but have come across a short web post on it by the author, but can you confirm that Peter Leithard in his commentary books on Revelation, sees Babylon as rebellious Israel?
    If that is his exegetical conclusion, at first blush, as a none biblical scholar, I’d consider that to be a serious, substantial, misstep. Any critique? If I’m correct, on which passages does he base that view. ? Can you put me right, please?

      • Many thanks for the reply and the link, Ian
        Skimming the comments reveals your remarkable gracious perseverance and patience, even as they continue till June this year.
        In a way, I’m glad I missed it. It was like getting inside a washing machine, stuck on a heated spin cycle, or so I imagine.

        Maybe, just one comment arises; does your commentary deal with the questions and assertions raised by the comments, or do your replies amount to an addendum to your book? Time for the publication of a Q & A booklet, perhaps?

        • Several of my online articles, like this one, function as either background to the commentary or responding to questions arising from it

          I am hoping to write full book about Revelation and the End of the World some time next year.

  7. Ian

    Your enthusiasm for Revelation and Scripture in general is clear from the interview. I lost count of how many times the interviewer exclaimed ‘wow’!

    One question, John links the ‘mark of the beast’ with being able to buy and sell. Whilst I understand this may be alluding to the general everyday economy as governed by the Emperor, would John’s readers not think to themselves when hearing/reading his letter, flip I have to buy and sell every day to survive – do I have the mark? Why would they understand this reference is more about allegiance to Roman authority and beliefs?

    Ok a second question, you said you felt God tell you to do a PhD in Revelation. How did He do that? If it’s too personal a question, np.



    • On the first question, I think this is an allusion to the power of the guilds, their control over trade, and their routine integration of the emperor cult. I don’t think Revelation resolves this, but we can see Paul wrestling with the same issue in 1 Cor 8–10.

      On the second, God guides in all sorts of way. About seven times in my life God has spoken to me very clearly, unbidden, in something close to an audible voice, or in words in a dream. When I got my First in Theology, the principal of my college suggested I consider joining the then new scheme in the C of E to allow research to follow on from ordination training. I went on holiday with friends from my previous church, and we spent the week talking about praying about it. By the end of the week I had come to a settle view that this was indeed God’s intention for me.

      Does that make sense?

      • …..”When I got my First in Theology, the principal of my college suggested I consider joining the then new scheme in the C of E to allow research to follow on from ordination training. I went on holiday with friends from my previous church, and we spent the week talking about praying about it. By the end of the week I had come to a settle view that this was indeed God’s intention for me.”…..

        This is so interesting to me Ian – I have often related how God spoke to me perceptibly almost audibly which after I too got my first in Theology and I was asked to stay and pursue theological research…. and God spoke to me (one morning doing BCP morning office alongside an Alpine river in Switzerland) and told me to go and get ordained and not pursue academic route. I have often regretted it, but never doubted it. I guess in my case God knew I peaked at my undergrad studies whereas you, brother, were on an upward trajectory 🙂


  8. Thank you for interesting piece. My wife too has troubling memories from her Brethren childhood. The fear of being left behind was very real and actually unhelpful (as well as a wrong understanding). But is there a prior question to ask. Were ‘they’ (the first christians) in the end times – at least in the way they thought they were? How much of the pastoral guidance in the Epistles was based around a need to manage faithful living so close to the end of all things. Paul’s teaching on marriage and celibacy in 1Cor7 is an example. The choice (and it was a choice) of singleness or marriage was envisaged as a short-term commitment in a world on the brink of the coming Kingdom. Paul’s overriding concern was that they were living for the coming kingdom. There’s no discussion of the longer term challenge of faithful living and long term relationships. They were simply not expecting to be around that long. Of course pastoral questions were beginning to surface as some believers were dying before the end. But wouldn’t they be astonished to know we were having this same discussion 2000 years later? Genuinely curious …. Thanks

    • Thanks David. I know lots of people who share Jackie’s childhood experience—terrifying.

      I think that the evidence is mixed. Clearly some comments, in Paul and the gospels, suggests a belief in a temporally imminent return of Jesus, but others do not. I have been struck by the difference between Mark 13 and Matthew 24; the focus of the former is on temporally imminent events, mostly connected with the fall of Jerusalem, whereas in the latter we get the switch to longer-term thinking, including the idea of a master ‘being delayed’ χρονίζει (Matt 24.48) or going on a journey ‘for a long time’ πολὺν χρόνον (Matt 25.19) and the bridegroom ‘being delayed’ χρονίζοντος (Matt 25.5).

      Now, the form critics would say that these parables were created by the church community to deal with the crisis of the delayed parousia, but that is not a logical necessity. It is perfectly reasonable to believe all these teachings go back to Jesus—indeed, they are typical of Jesus’ teaching in Matthew—but that different things were more important to different gospel writers at different times.

      I think the same is true in the Pauline corpus; there are texts which suggest a belief in an imminent return, and others which appear more ‘settled’; whilst texts in 1 Cor look more like the form, the later parts of Romans look like the latter. It is also worth noting that some texts are mistranslated to create a false impression; I have argued that Rom 16.20 should be translated ‘quickly’ or ‘suddenly’, not ‘soon’.

      Even Revelation is ambiguous on this. If the End is coming quickly, why is there a repeated emphasis on ‘patient endurance’? I actually had a disagreement with Ben Witherington on this, which I explore here.

      Theologically, it seems to me we need both/and, and this is reflected in the NT. When we are settled, seek to build things, and think longer term, we can lose a sense of urgency, and fail to hold things lightly. On the other hand, if we only think about Jesus coming tomorrow, we neglect important things like education and infrastructure. Was is Luther who said ‘If I thought the Lord was coming tomorrow, I would still collect the rent and plant an apple tree’?

      I feel a blog post coming on…

      PS I should add that, for all of us, the ‘time is short’—as short as one lifespan.

      • Thanks Ian – really stimulating. Yes, I agree there are different voices on this in the NT. That invites a more open and exploratory reading of the texts perhaps? On the stress on patience you remind me of Alan Kreider’s wonderful study, ‘The Patient Ferment of the Early Church’. He argues patience is one of the most neglected but core formative qualities in discipleship. Thanks again.

  9. I like to find allusions within scripture to bolster my understanding. Eg: Jacob worked 2×7 years for Rachael. The time passed quickly because he was in love. Likewise The past 1000×2+years is, to those in love, but a moment. Also this explains perhaps the 6 days of creation. It is written from His perspective. The object of creation is us.

    • Steve Really? I am really struggling to believe that I would have been happy to forced to delay marrying my wife for 14 years because I was so in love with her I would hardly have noticed the delay! Quite the opposite. The idea of working to ‘earn’ a wife like a business deal to own a property is another issue too isn’t it?

      • Hi David,
        Thanks for your reply.
        See: Genesis 29:20
        “So Jacob served seven years to get Rachel, but they seemed like only a few days to him because of his love for her.”
        I agree with you, I would not feel the same way. But, this is scripture talking. I take it to mean it is the way God works to obtain a wife. Millions of years of preparation to build a ‘house’ fit for a bride is condensed into 6 days, followed by thousands of years for the bride to prepare herself. In the end it will all be summed up a a singular ‘day of the lord’ as he marries his bride. The preparation, waiting and tears forgotten in the moment.
        As an aside I believe the scroll with 7 seals stands for the bride in the right hand of her father waiting for the lamb to claim her. A wedding ceremony in progress.
        See Zephaniah 3 8-9 If you read on down you will see that it is talking about ‘the daughter of Zion’–The church and bride of Christ.
        In Revelation the scroll is slowly picked undone to reveal His plan. Like in Zephaniah the Church’s presence on earth induces the wrath of God as He works to protect and reveal the object of His love.

        • ‘I take it to mean it is the way God works to obtain a wife.’ You are, I think, making an allegorical reading of the text. As a child of the Reformation, I am happy to read theologically, but this text is actually about Jacob and Rachel.

          • I don’t like allegory either ,generally but the human sentiments expressed are relections of divine feelings. We are made in His image. Therefore if Jacob in love is a real thing in real history and for him time passed swiftly we can reflect that God has emotions that he can express in the same way. I think I am seeing an allusion in the OT not an allegory.

      • I am really struggling to believe that I would have been happy to forced to delay marrying my wife for 14 years because I was so in love with her I would hardly have noticed the delay!

        Jacob waited seven years to marry Rachael, not fourteen. He worked for fourteen years for her, but the last seven were worked while he was married to Rachel (the wedding took place a week after his wedding to Leah, after the first seven years).

        Don’t worry, it’s a common mistake.

  10. The scriptures could not be clearer that Jesus Christ will return bodily in power to this world:

    He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight. They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven” – Acts 1:7-11.

    In modern language, play the videotape of his ascension backwards to see what his return will look like.

    But when? Jesus did not return when Jerusalem and the Temple were destroyed in AD70, and some of us think that the Book of Revelation was given soon after – not before – to explain to a confused Church that the scope of God’s plan was larger in time and space, encompassing not only Israel but the whole world, and undoing the effects of evil not just on Israel but on all of humanity and creation. Jesus had, after all, told them on the Mount of Olives that the end would not come until the gospel had been preached to every tribe and tongue.

    So the church learnt to think in terms of centuries and millennia, rather than decades – but still a finite timescale on our clocks, not a meaninglessly spiritualised timescale.

    That’s the good news. Now the bad: things will get worse before they get better. A lot worse and then a lot better, in fact. The main portion of the Book of Revelation speaks of angels in heaven breaking seven scrolls on a seal, blowing seven trumpets, and pouring out seven bowls of divine wrath on the earth. Each of these actions in heaven leads to an (increasingly shocking) event on earth. Consequently it makes no sense to spiritualise this passage, interpreting it all ‘spiritually’, i.e. in heaven. The things mentioned as happening on the earth will happen on the earth; they have not happened yet, so they lie ahead.

    Once again: When? The world will have to be unified politically first, and that is not going to happen overnight. But Daniel said that the end would come like a flood, and we can feel a great acceleration in the pace of events today. Globalisation is taking place before our eyes: there has long been a world currency (gold) and world economy, and for the first time in history there is a United Nations organisation, no matter how shambolic. WMDs exist, and they will be used in view of man’s dark heart; World War 2 saw the first use of nuclear weapons, and SARS-CoV-2 might have been an accidental leak from the midstages of a bioweapons program. The Jews are back in their land, for Jesus to return to and rescue them as he promised, and the gospel has very nearly been preached to all peoples. How much more evidence is needed that Jesus’ return is far closer than when the Industrial Revolution (which facilitated globalisation) began, three centuries ago? I suggest that the timescale to His return is shorter than centuries, then, but longer than years (because today’s world will not be unified politically under a fearsome dictator within a few years). What timescale is intermediate between centuries and years? Decades. So I expect Jesus to come back to Jerusalem in decades, i.e. this century. Anybody who asserts a year more than seven ahead can be dismissed as a false prophet. We do know the time of year, however: autumn in Jerusalem, for He will return at Tabernacles, which (not coincidentally) is the harvest festival. Tabernacles is the only one of the three annual festivals which all Jewish men were commanded to attend that has not yet had fulfilment in Christ. Passover was fulfilled at the Crucifixion, FirstFruits at Pentecost. Tabernacles awaits fulfilment.

    The Book of Revelation is assurance for believers that, no matter how dark the world gets, God is in charge and knows exactly what he is doing. Nothing can thwart his plan. Meanwhile, Christians in Western culture must be careful not to confuse the end of their civilisation with the end of the world, although the two are not going to be very far apart.

    So come, Lord Jesus! Come and put an end to this present evil age. Come and rule the world in justice and in truth. The world is your Father’s good creation, and it deserves nothing less after 2000 years of wrong.

      • Rome never conquered Persia or India or China – or, of course, America.

        Limiting the Book of Revelation to the Near East is not thinking big enough. This is the undoing of (and restoration from) the events in the Book of Genesis, and God’s plan encompasses the whole of mankind – who has now spread across the entire globe.

        • But we need to read the text in context. Paul talks of having preached the gospel ‘in the whole world’, and it is clear that by that he meant the whole known world ie the Roman Empire.

          I am in no way ‘limiting’ the Book of Revelation. But to say ‘It cannot mean what it appeared to mean in its day, therefore it is about the distant future’ is both to ignore its context and set aside really prominent features of the text. I have previously commented:

          ‘But there is one feature of Revelation, often passed over, which is conclusive in helping us read the text aright. At the end of the book, there is a key phrase which reinforces all this:

          Then he [the angel] told me, “Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this scroll, because the time is near.” (Rev 22.10)

          What does this verse mean? It cannot be read in isolation from the parallel verse in Daniel 12.4 and 9–10:

          But you, Daniel, close up and seal the words of the scroll until the time of the end. Many will go here and there to increase knowledge….Go your way, Daniel, because the words are closed up and sealed until the time of the end. Many will be purified, made spotless and refined, but the wicked will continue to be wicked. None of the wicked will understand, but those who are wise will understand.

          (We can see the allusion to Daniel 12 in Rev 22 by the echo in 22.11 of the phrase from Daniel ‘the wicked will continue to be wicked.’)

          What does this mean? In Daniel, the stories are set in the sixth century BC, with Daniel in exile in Babylon. But most commentators agree that the stories refer to the Antiochene crisis in 167 BC, when Antiochus IV Epiphanes sacrificed unclean animals in the temple, and event which led to the Maccabean revolt described in 1 and 2 Maccabees. Some scholars would see this as vaticimium ex eventu, a literary device where Daniel appears to foresee what is to come, though the text is actually written in the second century. Others would see it as an ‘authentic’ predictive text, where the second-century BC future was revealed to sixth-century BC Daniel. But either way, the point is that the events being referred to are many years after the setting of the story being told. Hence the words of the vision must be ‘sealed’ (in this case for around 400 years), until they become relevant to the readers.

          What does Rev 22.10 then say? The exact opposite. The words of John’s vision report must not be sealed; the events being referred to are not many years after the setting in which John is writing. The beast of Rev 13 is not some future, eschatological figure who will come many centuries hence, but (in the form of Roman Imperial power) is already demonstrating his strength.’

          See the longer discussion here:

          • I bought and have read your book, Ian. I agree with a lot of it but disagree with some parts. I went through the phase of being an ‘endtime nut’ about 20 years ago (10 years after my conversion from secular materialism). I like the comment – not mine, alas – that most Christians either never get into the Book of Revelation or never get out of it. I eventually integrated it with the gospel, but it left me with a holy fear of the Lord which I am glad to have retained.

            Can you think of a better description of our times than Daniel’s “Many will run to and fro and knowledge will increase”? Students have routinely been going round the world in their gap year, people commute for an hour a day to work and back each day, and there has been an explosive increase in scientific knowledge in the last four centuries.

            I reject the claim that Daniel was written in the 2nd century BC. It makes the book into a bunch of pious lies and God into a pious liar. This claim has been reasoned against for more than 100 years (“Daniel in the Critics’ Den” by Robert Anderson) and the best scholarly short rebuttal is Paul Lawrence’s essay “Who wrote Daniel?” in Bible and Sword magazine vol.28 no.1 (Winter 2015).

            Please would you respond to the point I made above, as follows? The main portion of the Book of Revelation speaks of angels in heaven breaking seven scrolls on a seal, blowing seven trumpets, and pouring out seven bowls of divine wrath on the earth. Each of these actions in heaven leads to an (increasingly shocking) event on earth. Consequently it makes no sense to spiritualise this passage, interpreting it all ‘spiritually’, i.e. in heaven. The things mentioned as happening on the earth will happen on the earth; they have not happened yet, so they lie ahead.

          • Glad you enjoyed it! Would love to know which points you disagreed on!

            The idea that Daniel is ‘describing our times’ is a conceit of modernity, the idea that we are in a unique kind of crisis. It does not bear historical scrutiny, even though there are some unique things about our time. But humanity has always had a sense of crisis, and the language of apocalyptic allows repeated reapplication because of the way it uses metaphors, as I have explored here:

            I think I am pretty careful *not* to state that ‘Daniel was written in the second century’. What I say is: Daniel is written *about* the second century, though it is set in the sixth. However you interpret it, Daniel is portrayed as a series of visions given to someone which depicts events of the distant future, four hundred or so years later. And that is the clear meaning of ‘seal up the words of this book’.

            It is very difficult to interpret the words at the end of Revelation ‘Do not seal up the words of this book’ as saying anything other than ‘These visions are *not* about the distant future’.

            I think you misunderstand what I am saying about metaphor and symbolism. This is not ‘spiritualising’ or ‘setting events in heaven’. I have no doubt, as I say in my commentary, that the four horsemen et al for John and his readers describe what is going on on earth. But it is already going on. The seals are not a future plan, but a way of describing how the world is, and is use of ‘woe’ in chapters 8 and 9 actually locate him and his readers between the sixth and the seventh trumpets, as I explain here:

            Unlike ‘idealists’ I am not ‘spiritualising’ the text. But there are multiple reasons to reject the idea that Revelation is offering us a timetable for the end times, which relate to specific world events today. Many generations of readers have thought that before; they have each been wrong; and we are no different.

            You say ‘they have not happened yet, so they lie ahead’. They have happened, and they have continued to happen all through history.

          • What verses do you (Ian) have in mind in which Paul said that he preached the gospel in the whole world, please? Romans 16 or Colossians 1? They don’t quite say that, and even within the Roman empire Paul never got to preach in Spain. Furthermore Paul would have been well aware of the Parthian empire to the east of the Roman empire, as Persia had played a crucial role in the history of both Israel and Greece.

            The last chapters of the Book of Revelation are about the culminating fate of every human, from every nation, and of the heavens and of the earth. This book is the last book in the Bible, the climax. Therefore it makes better sense to see the scope of this Book as widening to speak of the entire globe, rather than just the Roman empire and its church. I suggest that the latter is an excessively Rome-centric view. In Rev 22:10, “do not seal up the words” means that all Christians need to know this book, because they do not know when these things will happen and need to be on watch, and “The time is near” – God thinks big in terms of time (1000 years = day, etc).

            The passage in Daniel 11 fits Antiochus Epiphanes like a glove until, somewhere round v36, it prophesies things that have never yet happened. Therefore they lie ahead, and refer to the man of whom Antiochus was a forerunner/type, the Antichrist. There are plenty of references to “the end” immediately following this passage, which make the context clear. This sliding between two temporally separated events is not unusual in prophecy: when Jesus read Isaiah in the synagogue saying that he had been sent to bind up the broken-hearted, and stated in an electric moment that Isaiah meant Him, He stopped just before the verse about the day of vengeance of our God, which is his Second Coming.

            I accept that you were not saying Daniel was written in the 200 years BC; my apologies. But I hold that Daniel 7 is not a recapitulation of Daniel 2. Daniel was told that the four beasts in ch.7 were in the future, whereas the head of the statue in ch.2 represented Babylon which had already conquered the Jews – Daniel was in the service of its king. The four parts of the statue in ch.2 correspond to the four empires that preceded Christ’s first coming, and the four beasts in ch.7 correspond to the four empires that will precede his second coming. (One might recognise Britain and Russia in the lion and the bear.) Why should God bother recapitulating chapter 2 in a different vision? Why should God have Persia or Greece represented by different animals in chs. 7 and 8? In ch.2 the four empires fall in respective strength, whereas in ch.7 they rise in strength, moreover.

            You say of the events depicted on earth that correspond to the seven seal-openings, seven trumpets sounding and seven bowls being poured out in heaven, that “They have happened, and they have continued to happen all through history.” OK: when has “something like a huge mountain, all ablaze, been thrown into the sea” (2nd trumpet, Rev 8:8) with the effect of ravaging 1/3 of the sea? How can this “continue to happen”? I take so-called apocalyptic language not to be a form of rhetoric, but descriptions of things such as meteorite strikes and nuclear detonations (Joel 2:30, blood and fire and pillars of smoke) using only the language of 2000 years ago.

            Revelation indeed does not offer a timetable for the last days in the sense of a clock which gives the number of years or days between successive events, but it does give a sequence of events. You say, “Many generations of readers have thought that before; they have each been wrong; and we are no different.” No, we *are* different: today for the first time there is globalisation, there is a sense of its acceleration (Daniel’s “end will come like a flood”), there is a UN, there are WMDs meaning we are on a tightrope, and above all the Jews are back in their land to call to Jesus to rescue them when the IDF finally becomes inadequate to deal with their last foe and there has been a great surge of messianic believers. Jesus said this: Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing. See, your house is left to you desolate. I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’

            Did you know that there has been a steady increase in the number of Jewish believers in Jesus in the Holy Land since 1948? The return of the Jews to the Holy Land was prophesied by Isaiah (11:11-12): God’s hand will a second time recover a remnant of his people… he will… gather together the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth. This prophecy fits nothing else.

  11. Brilliant
    “Christians in Western culture must be careful not to confuse the end of their civilisation with the end of the world, ”

  12. “They have happened and continue to happen all through history.” Ian Paul.
    That, to me, is key to understanding Revelation. Events are not sequential in history, but are a form of parellism. Parallelism runs throughout scripture, does it not?
    It is supported by, GK Beale and S Storms among others.
    While I’ve struggled to understand why the book of Revelation takes such a hold on Christians so that contention becomes rife, maybe it is because we want to know what is around the corner, what the future holds, a kind of sanctified crystal ball, rather than to have day- to-day, flat-out trust, dependence, reliance on our Triune God, his goodness in our union with Christ.
    And we must give consideration to the question of eternity and the theological understanding that God is outside time, while at the same time being being present, here now, but not yet.

    • Geoff:….”They have happened and continue to happen all through history.” Ian Paul.
      That, to me, is key to understanding Revelation. Events are not sequential in history, but are a form of parralellism…”

      But is this true Geoff? Presumably the return of Christ, route of the demonic, resurrection of the dead, reign of Jesus, judgment day, destruction of evil, recreation of new heaven and earth and heaven one earth are all events in the future, historically sequential, and awaiting their fulfilment?

      • Yes. For example, Mark may see the fulfilment of the 3.5 years at the end of the year 69 which recalls how Jesus – referring to himself in his Passion as ‘Son of Man’ – pre-empted the present King Vespasian in being involved in: ear-severing and naked flight incidents directly leading to his succession to the throne that same day; temple-desecration; investment and coronation; triumphal procession (Thomas Schmidt); enthronement between two similar subordinates.

        But Mark also sees the eschatological coming of the Son of Man as separate from that (Mk 13). So does Jesus in his trial (Mk 14)

      • Simon

        ‘the return of Christ, route of the demonic, resurrection of the dead, reign of Jesus, judgment day, destruction of evil, recreation of new heaven and earth and heaven one earth are all events in the future’ Yes, but they are not ‘eventS’. They are one event. When you pull back the curtain in the morning, where does the darkness go and how long does it take?

        Rev 19–21 offers a sequence of visions—but not a sequence of events. The visions are different ways of describing the meaning of the one event—the return of Jesus and the end of the old age. As Paul says, it will happen ‘in the blink of an eye’.

        I am afraid I don’t have any time for Chris Shell’s literal time spans; I don’t understand the rationale for treating these things literally.

      • Some of the reasons I take the literal/surface-meaning tack are:
        (a) ‘the time is near’ which suggests some basis in enumeration;
        (b) the association of the woes which clearly begin and end at particular times with the material in the book which has most often been associated by interpreters with first-century events;
        (c) The 8 kings and the beast (and therefore also its image) being manifestly contemporary first-century, and being so important in the book;
        (d) Genre – similarities to the Sibyllines and 4 Ezra. And especially to Daniel which both refers to the literal historical events of the time of Antiochus and provides a counting system for reckoning dates. Daniel being in fact the main exemplar and most similar book of all at the time of writing – and therefore a guide to our interpretation.

  13. Although certain things (love, war) enable us to see the nature of reality with especial clarity, and Rev’s burning insights owe not a little to their dating from the upheaval of 69, a war period par excellence (war over Jerusalem, war for the throne), Rev does still have a timescale in mind which is directly Daniel-derived, namely that the saints of the Most High will inherit (come into their own) after 3.5 years, which means Dedication 69 – after (ironically enough) a year when they might have had some cause to feel optimistic (Jerusalem still stood, and the church was protected). The 3.5 years applied (typically of John) to 3.5 things (mid 66 to late 69) which date from the start of the Jewish War:
    -The period of war on God’s people (mid 66 to late 69) – ch13
    -The period of treading down the temple (ditto) -ch11
    -The period when the Jerusalem church, having fled at the start of the war, was to lie protected in the wilderness (ditto) -ch12
    -(and the ‘half’ item) the double witness of Peter and Paul (mid 66 to Purim 68 so only 21 months), 21 months each being a chronological total of 21 months though a total of 42 months altogether – ch11.

    • I really have no idea why you read Rev 11 as literal, or the timespans as literal. They have a very symbolic meaning.

      I think this kind of preterist schedule is of no help at all.

      • I have never been a preterist. Preterists say that prophecies were already fulfilled in the first century, whereas I’m saying more that the reference is indeed first-century, but as to fulfilment the proof of the pudding is in the eating.

      • My other point is that whereas many things can be symbolic of other things, that does not apply to numbers. 1 cannot be symbolic of 7, nor 35 symbolic of 42.

    • That would be prominent among several. John is looking at the Jewish War where the trampling started mid-66. The idea (for the writer who is writing in and shortly after the reign of Vitellius, Apr to Dec 69) is that the trampling and subjection and exile (the 3 3.5 year things) is slated to end at the time of Hanukkah 69, when war on the saints is replaced by the saints inheriting the kingdom, personified by the Son of Man. So he elides together his final 3 ceremonies of the sequence of 7: Dedication, Funeral, Wedding.

      This was an easy count to make (3 and a half years from the start of the War), and Josephus gives evidence of fervent reading of Daniel’s prophecies during the War, these being the only ones in the OT that allowed a count of days, so naturally they were the obvious ones that everyone went to.

      On 22 Dec Vitellius was assassinated, being pursued to his death half-naked with his robes in rags; his tribune’s ear was cut off in the melee on this same day. As he (Vitellius, the 2nd beast) was the High Priest (Pontifex Maximus) and from long experience within a prophetic-guild revelled in this role, notably in the cult of Nero, this tribune was ‘the servant of the High Priest’ as in the Mark 14 ear.

      Mark juxtaposes the severed ear and fleeing naked one at the time of Jesus’s arrest, and of course his main aim throughout is to say that Jesus is King/Christ (which means that the Emperor isn’t) and that Jesus destroyed and replaced the temple (beating Vespasian and Titus to it).

      Rev 16 shows that an oracle arose about fleeing naked at the Critical Moment – this also sees the stories of the emperor Vitellius and Jesus in the light of each other at the times of their arrests. This oracle is very closely juxtaposed to one of the very few mentions of the 2nd beast or false prophet (Vitellius).

      Some people (Edmundson, Robinson) see the Rome/Capitol conflagration on that day 22.12.69 reflected in Rev 18.

      Maybe therefore Mark is inheriting a framework where the Danielic 3.5 years were aligned to a 3.5 year war. This necessitated taking the shocking day of the Capitol fire as the watershed/changeover point. In current affairs, that was the day that Vespasian (Mark’s reigning emperor) inherited the throne. Mark shows that Jesus (because of the *earlier* ear instance upon arrest and *earlier* fleeing-naked instance upon arrest) pre-empted him, got there first on the appropriate day, and is the true King/Messiah (Mark’s personal Christological emphasis) instead of Vespasian. The prophecy of 3.5 years’ completion was encouraged by the fact that an extremely momentous day did complete that period. And Mark calls Jesus ‘the Son of Man’ vis-a-vis His Passion, referring too to the manifestation of the Son of Man at his trial together with the replacement of the temple.

      It is appropriate that the new Temple-era should come at Hanukkah.

      • There are 2 reasons why Revelation cannot have been entirely written after the demise of Vitellius and Capitol fire 22.12.69, that being such a remarkable event to mark the 3.5 year interval:
        (1) The start of the Jewish War (or cessation of the daily sacrifice) is a fixed contingent date.
        (2) Those who hear are told ‘the time is near’ not ‘the time is past’.

        Accordingly Rev. hit the jackpot because the 3.5 year mark did in fact mark the date at which both beasts Nero and Vitellius were now dead, completing the set. This mark also was conveniently located at Hanukkah, whose association with the 3.5 year mark needs no elaboration. So things turned out very neatly for John. Who was prophesying a great victory not a great destruction for God’s people.

        But as for 22.12.69 marking the coming of the Son of Man (and of the Saints of the Most High into their own) Mark hit on the best available way of demonstrating that: namely, that the king who then succeeded had been preempted in his succession and taking up office in every way by Jesus (who also healed a blind man with spit & a man with a withered hand). Everything Vespasian had done, Jesus had done earlier: healing of these two but of others as well; succession to the throne on the day of ear-severing and naked flight and arrest; investment and coronation; triumphal procession; enthronement between a pair of main subordinates; and over and above everything, the annulment of the old temple (while a very recent emperor, Nero, had had it fabled about him that he had killed the sacred figtree of Romulus, so Jesus emulates that imperial power too). So Vespasian cannot be the actual rightful king given that he is bested by Jesus at every point. So at 22.12.69 someone putatively succeeds whom another is patently superior to. That is how 22.12.69 can be treated, by both Rev and Mark, as the time when the Saints of the Most High (in the shape of the glorious Son of Man) inherited the kingdom. In Mark the date is ambiguous between 69 and the date (30 or 33 – 30 would appropriately mark a ‘generation’) when Jesus had already acceded to the kingship.

  14. Loving the discussion, and your interview, of course, Ian.
    But having listened to it, I was later unable to refer a friend to it, as the link no longer works, nor does a search on Premier Christianity suggest it is hiding elsewhere in their portals!
    Are you able to track it down, or persuade Premier to upload it again?

  15. Are we in the ‘end times’?

    Adding something else to the mix, the response to that must be “yes”, on the basis of what Peter says as recorded in Acts 2:15-17. He says that what the crowd was witnessing was the fulfillment of the prophecy given to Joel:

    ‘“In the last days, God says,
    I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
    Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
    your young men will see visions,
    your old men will dream dreams.”

    So, the “last days” (ἐν ταῖς ἐσχάταις ἡμέραι…) were already around when Peter was speaking. They have been around for nearly 2000 years.

  16. …yes, some aspects of Revelation will have been the experience of those in late C1st, and indeed running like a thread through history, but many are yet to occur and be fulfilled

    • The images that relate to the specifics of john’s work were experienced in the 1st century, but they are patterns that we see all through history, since humanity has not changed.

      Once we get to 19.10, the register changes, and John is now talking about the end of history. It is the long-term horizon against which we all see our different historical foregrounds.

  17. Ian agrees with you, Simon.
    I’d suggest that it’s just that the genre does not admit of such future historical precision that we seem to crave and preciously hold fast to.
    Dispensationalism in its various shades still grips large parts of the church.
    I don’t know whether there continue to be arguments over the furniture in heaven, not that I have come across one, but understand that they have heatedly taken place.
    What I find significant, is the the push back against Ian’s poisition; signifying that it cuts across dominant current theologies, even if loosely held or scholarly arrived at.
    I’m unsure whether Ian is rare (of course his is) in that as a biblcal scholar and commentary author he opens up to pulic comments, rather than settle for peer endorsement.
    And the title article, hones in on one aspect of Revelation whereas as you know it is to be read as a whole, part of the whole bible.
    Apologies, as this may come across as trying to teach my granny to suck eggs – an expression of its, my own era.
    As someone said when discussing end times, they weren’t part of the planning team but were part of the welcome team.
    Are we permanently ready? It’s always later and sooner than we think.

  18. Scripture tells me that the four horsemen have come and gone – they were fulfilled in the 20th century. We are now close to the first trumpet. When that sounds, the sun will become hyperactive and shoot out mass ejections from its corona, like the spikes of a certain virus. The blast of superhot plasma will burn up a third of the earth’s vegetation, disturb the near-earth asteroids from their orbits and cause a massive earthquake. Revelation refers to three asteroids. The first will hit the sea; the second disintegrate in the atmosphere and spray the earth with toxin; the third strike the land. The sky will repeatedly go green, make strange sounds and flash with lightning as the charged particles of the plasma interact with the atmosphere. With the fifth trumpet the disasters will become supernatural, as demons invade. With the sixth the demons will kill a third of mankind – some two and a half billion people. With the seventh those who believe in Jesus and have survived will be taken up. You won’t want to be left behind. All the earth is called to repent, including the Church, which is ill prepared for her Master’s return.

    “Come out of her, my people.”

    • ‘Scripture tells me that the four horsemen have come and gone’. Scripture tells us no such thing, and cannot on its own with interpretation.

      Given that all the imagery John uses comes from the Exodus plagues, I don’t have any real idea why you are interpreting them literally.

      If I gave you a propaganda cartoon from WW2 with a bulldog, a bear and an eagle fighting, would you interpret that as giant literal animals, and start to look for them?

      • So you’re saying the plagues of the Exodus should also be understood non-literally? Otherwise, I don’t follow. What would be the point of evoking those plagues unless it were to indicate that, just as the Exodus was a judgement on Egypt, so the disasters described in Revelation are a judgement on the whole earth?

        In any case, it’s not true that ‘all the imagery John uses comes from the Exodus plagues’. Only four of the Exodus plagues have look-alikes in Revelation, and the word ‘plague’ is not used to describe any of the disasters in Rev 8. Conversely, the asteroid of Rev 8:8f and the comet/asteroid of Rev 8:10f have no counterparts in the Exodus story. There is much imagery in other chapters that has no relation to the Exodus.

        A cardinal rule when reading a prophetic text is to try first to understand it literally. Only if it resists a literal interpretation or if a symbolic one is expressly provided should one try a non-literal one, and then the onus is on the interpreter to say what the non-literal one is. What, for example, is the non-literal meaning of all the vegetation being burned up (and only a third of the trees), or of all the living creatures in the ocean dying? The question could be extended to the numerous other apparently natural, non-literal details in the text. We don’t say that Jesus did not ‘literally’ turn water into wine just because the act was reminiscent of the first Exodus plague. Or that he did not literally heal lepers (Ex 9:10). Or that there was not literally darkness over the whole land during his crucifixion (Ex 10:22). Or that he, God’s firstborn, did not literally die.

        Revelation is not a propaganda cartoon.

        I don’t understand your point about woes, even though it seems pretty clear to you.

        • On woes, psephizo 23.9.19.

          Re use of symbol principles and parameters might be: (1) there would need to be some reason to use a symbol rather than a straight description; (2) an author would be unlikely to use a symbol if it were unclear what it was symbolic of.

          • Chris, the reason for using symbols rather than straight description is that they are powerful communicators and motivators and we are not merely rational beings. All powerful speech uses gripping, dynamic metaphors.

            An author would use metaphors his first audience would understand, but there is no guarantee that we would without some help, because we don’t inhabit the same cultural landscape. If you are unsure of the challenge, have a look at a Peter Brookes cartoon from eg five years ago and see whether you can make head or tail of it.

          • Yes, and yes.

            Agreed on the relevance (and transience) of political cartoons, when it comes to ancient satire or any ancient work that passionately critiques current affairs.

            With numbers of course we must be careful, and especially in the realm of recent history (which the woes of chs 9,11 are). ‘5 months’ is not symbolic for 8 months; ‘2 witnesses’ are not symbolic for 3 witnesses. For these I would not use the dreaded word ‘literal’ since what is termed literal is just the default.

            Granted that some numbers may designate completeness, incompleteness and so on.

            Also both ‘symbol’ and ‘metaphor’ can at times be used too loosely (or at other times as a cop-out) without the usage being fully thought through. The beast in Lord of the Flies is an undoubted symbol; the beast in Revelation can be said to be simultaneously all of symbol; metaphor; political satire/cartoon; secret message to the wise and to the minority embattled; prophetic fulfilment.

        • Hi Steven, on the woes, simply count where the word ‘woe’ comes from and see what you notice. (You will need to access a very word-for-word translation, or one that tags Greek words using Strongs, or the Greek text.)

          When you have done that and formed a view, compare it with mine here:

          (As Chris says, I also make reference to this here:

          In propaganda cartoons, we often see images of beasts on land or emerging from the sea and fighting each other. At the middle of Revelation we have beasts emerging from land and sea. You going to have to work hard to persuade me that these two things are not working in a similar way. I think they rather obviously are.

    • I’m quite amazed that you think you can interpret the Book of Revelation with so much certainty and accurate detail Steven, let alone John’s references to physics and astronomy..

      Anything else you can tell us?

  19. What was the greatest ‘earthquake ‘ in history? Answer: the crucifixion.
    Who is the Promised Land? Answer: Jesus.
    Those land was plowed figuratively:Jesus
    Whose fruit was crushed producing enough blood to drown in? :Jesus.
    Jesus’ words and deeds were like milk and honey flowing out of the promised land.
    He is the Land.
    He is the Lion.
    He is the Lamb
    And he will be the Lamp in the New Jerusalem.
    Jesus is Lord.
    The Revelation of God
    The Revelation is about Him.
    By Him.
    For Him
    He was at first the rock not carved by hands that smashed the empires of vanity.
    When he returns He will be like a great blazing mountain falling into the sea of chaos.

    • Steve – Jesus is the “promised land”; yet you say” he will be the lamp in the New Jerusalem”? How can this be if, as Ian says:”The New Jerusalem is described in geographical and architectural terms, but these are surely symbolic of the theological meaning of God’s present with his perfected people in Jesus.” If the lamp (Jesus) is #in# the New Jerusalem then the language that you employ is surely not symbolic ! How can he be in the city if it deoesn’t exist?

      Throughout this post, there has been tendency to employ (or assume) terms such as “symbolic” or “literal “, based upon concepts which ( rightly in my estimation) whilst pointing to the centrality of Christ, are all too readily used to dismiss material that does not fit in with a theological framework; a framework which, I believe does not do justice to the whole panolpy of biblical truth. Yes! For example,we believe in the resurrection of the body ( a body which has among other things a propensity for consuming fish!) yet somehow we place an embargo upon the transformation of aspects of the material world surrounding it . As the resurrection body “emerges” like a seed from the earthly form are we not allowed to for the “resurrection” of a renewed “physical” world? Of course we are aware of ” a new heaven and a new earth (” a creation set free from its bondage to corruption” -Romans 8:21). But somehow we place a limitation upon geographical and architectural features as if there is a great danger of viewing these through the filter of our ephemeral understanding! Moreover, if the New Jerusalem is merely symbolic, then who is to say that a new earth itself is not merely symbolic of the ultimate reality! – a new heaven? And if a New Jerusalem, seen as “location”, inhibits our fellowship with God, is it not possible that a new earth in all its entirety would do the same?
      I am seeking here to draw attention to certain aspects of what I believe are essentially symptoms of important issues rooted in theological and biblical interpretation; in particular how we understand the coherence of the Old and New Testaments. Now in this context, I would wish to highlight this coherence by alluding to the fulness of revelation in the life, death, resurrection, exaltation and ultimate return of our Lord Jesus Christ. But equally I would ask : in order to manifest this supreme revelation has an exclusion zone been placed upon what God has promised from of old ?

      • Hello Colin,
        I may be even duller than usual, but I don’t understand what you are driving at with your last sentence.
        There is a continuity and discontinuity between the old and new.
        That is epitomised, is it not, in those who are born again, from above; physically the same outwardly, but also a new creation, ever more transformed into the likeness of Christ, from one degree of glory to another, like but unlike him?

        • Maybe Colin,
          You are suggesting the Jesus forms an exclusion zone, a reductionism of limited scope and dimension, rather than a super-abundant expansion of heaven and earth Kingdom Dominion or Edenic garden/temple, where every knee will bow and every tongue confess his Lordship, either exultantly or in final agonised rebellion? That will be a point in space, place, in time, in future material world history.

      • Colin,
        Things, it seems go from one degree of glory to another. Each level is beautiful and complete in its own . So at first there was light. As St Paul observed “everything is made out of that which is unseen” The angels sang together in praise of the perfection thus wrought.
        Then God proceeded with more creation. Each day a complete surprise and a thousand fold in difference from what preceeded it.
        The process will continue in the same way. At first we will be resurrected. Simply brought back to life . As Each day unfolds we will go from glory to glory.
        Where will it end? For life to be truly alive it has to go on growing. It’s its nature! Surely whatever metaphors we employ are inadequate
        light out of the unseen
        Land out of sea
        Woman/mankind out of earth(Adam)
        Then after the fall Jesus out of the tomb.
        A new creation out of the old dead one.
        We are the jewels on the bridal gown. (Isaiah). The new Jerusalem is the bride .
        Jesus is her lamp.
        If we were invited to a Royal wedding and you spent the whole day remarking on the wonderful architecture and criticising my attempt to express the joy of being up close and personal I’d wonder if you had any friendship with the bride and groom;)

          • The references to Jesus as the Land are obscure and I don’t know of any writing on the subject to back my supposition. It is something that I feel is there. I would like a scholar to tell me what they think. The word ‘land’ is overlooked because it is not consistently used as a good metaphor.
            If the sea is often a metaphor for the wicked. Then the Land of Promise can be personified as its opposite.
            The Promised Land is clearly marked borders.
            The people of God inhabit it.
            It has Mount Hermon as its head ‘as white as snow’. At the top of Israel.
            Sinai is at the bottom where his feet rest, where The law was given to the people at his feet, as it were.
            His heart is in the temple, in Jerusalem.

            Psalm 129:2-4
            2 ‘they have greatly oppressed me from my youth, but they have not gained the victory over me.
            3 Ploughmen have ploughed my back and made their furrows long.
            4 But the Lord is righteous; he has cut me free from the cords of the wicked.’
            The righteous will inherit the land and dwell in it for ever.
            Oblique? Yes. But Jesus was scourged. It reminds me of him as the land ploughed for us.
            Psalm 37:34
            Hope in the Lord and keep his way. He will exalt you to inherit the land; when the wicked are destroyed, you will see it.
            The Land is the ultimate inheritance of the righteous. Who is our inheritance?…

            Nehemiah 9:23
            You made their children as numerous as the stars in the sky, and you brought them into the land that you told their parents to enter and possess
            We are grafted in to the vine and the roots are in the land.

            Isaiah 55:12
            You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands
            Zephaniah 3:17
            The Lord your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.’
            The One who sings over you is the Land.
            Its all poetic and ephemeral but this sample gives a flavour of how I think we can see Jesus as the Land promised to us, our inheritance.

            PS if anyone can be more specific and nail this down please shout!

          • Simon

            I would take a slightly different, theological approach from Steve, and I think I have argued it in my articles about Israel and the land.

            Jesus is explicitly identified with the tabernacle and the temple presence of God, which as Steve says is at the heart of the land.

            In the first covenant, obligation and blessing are tied to the land. If you are in the land, you enjoy the blessings and gracious love of God, but you also take on the obligations of covenant obedience, and this applies to all, resident aliens as well as Israelites.

            In the new covenant, both obligation and blessing are tied to Christ. If you are in Christ, you enjoy the blessings and gracious love of God, but you also take on the obligations of covenant obedience.

            So whereas the narrative of the OT is connected by an account of what happens in the land, for Paul in the NT the central thread of the narrative is what it means to be in Christ.

            I think that is the kind of paradigm that Chris Wright works with in his Living as the People of God, though he might not express it in these terms.

            Does that make sense?

  20. Jesus ministry on earth should have scored a perfect 7 but He was ‘cut off and had nothing’. His symbolic score was 3.5.
    His church on earth will do the same and be cut off and look like a failure. But God vindicated Jesus foolishness by restoring Him to life and will do the same for His church giving them a combined score of 7. BUT the exception to the symbolic number rule ( a number can not be symbolic of another number ) is that God will award Jesus and His Bride a perfect 1000. So in a way 1000 is symbolic of 1260, 42 and 3.5 by being their replacement. 1000 alludes to all the poetic examples in scripture. Jesus is David’s Captain of a Thousand. The cross + is the start of the xilion year reign.

      • Just a quick one on numbers or dimensions. Everything in the bible that God gives dimensions for is significant. : the Ark, Tabernacle, Solomon’s Temple, Ezekiel’s Temple plan and the New Jerusalem can be seen as prefiguring Christ. And the [promised] land is also given dimensions/borders. Could not this indicate that the ‘Land’ can be given typological recognition along with the others I mention?

        • Hmmm…I feel unhappy with the idea of ‘everything prefiguring Christ’ as though the Bible was some kind of elaborate crossword clue. If we think in personal, relational terms, then it is about God’s character being consistent. Things connect with Christ not because of a puzzle, but because the Christlike God acts consistently.

          • Good morning Rev. I’m probably seeing patterns in the static, again. And I’ve gone off topic.
            Thanks for your reply.

  21. Kindling, that fans into flames praise and worship, that enjoyment of God, in joy and sorrow, for which we were created, Steve. It takes us out of ourselves. Thanks.

    • Thanks Geoff
      That’s my aim!
      I’m not trying to add or subtract from scripture. But to use it . I probably bend it too much at times.
      Thanks to Ian for pulling out stuff to play with!

  22. I’ve not read all the comments so some of this may have been covered.

    1. My background is fairly strict Open Brethren. I embrace it as a gift from God. It had its faults – one being preaching hellfire and abandoned by parents to young children. I fear we are at the opposite extreme now and there is both a loss of nerve about eternal suffering both doctrinally and evangelically. Brethren encouraged young men to study and preach. They had interactive Bible studies at a fairly rigorous level. Airhead contributions spoken with authority and conviction were soon exposed. Those days were less tolerant which was a mixed blessing.

    2. Regarding Revelation I think a fair chunk of it is located within John’s 42 months/1260 days/time, times and half a time. I know many are inclined to see this 31/2 years as a symbol of the whole age of the church. I struggle with that. Numbers in Revelation may be literal or symbolic. This number is derived principally from Daniel’s prophecy where it refers to literal years (Cf. Dan 7). In various places in Daniel 31/2 years surfaces.

    Further in Rev 13 we are told the time frame 31/2 years is the period when the Beast all but annihilates the church. The Beast in Rev 13 is not simply despotic or anti-Christian governments through history. He is much more closely defined…. He comes up from the bottomless pit, is a beast who was and is and is to Come, he is slaughtered and healed and is an eighth king. It is a very precise manifestation of the beast that is in view… one who like the little horn of Dan 7 makes war on the saints and conquers them.

    I am aware that problems exist with this. Problems exist with all interpretations as far as I can see.

    3. Each generation of Christians can look out on the world and think soon the events of Revelation are going to be fulfilled. It is very easy for us to see a gathering storm. Birth pangs are evident. Our redemption is nearer than when we first believed, For one generation the events of the end will be fully realised and the Lord will return..

    • Just a thought. I could look it up but it would take ages… is ‘mene mene tekel parsin’ the origin of the 3.5 years?

    • John, thanks for this.

      I don’t think ‘eternal suffering’ is warranted from the biblical texts, and belief in this is separate from belief in judgement and accountability, and whether the lost will ‘perish’ (which is the dominant biblical image).

      Yes, I have often come across the high level of study and engagement in this context. But it is often a hyper-rational kind of engagement, which does not attend to Scripture as an act of communication. As such, reading Scripture well needs skills of empathy and understanding, and not just analysis of the minutiae.

      I am unsure as to why you struggle to read Revelation’s numbers symbolically. Is there anything ‘literal’ in the book? Do you think Jesus is literally a lamb? Does God have a literal, physical throne? Is there somewhere a literal scroll with seven literal seals on it? Why would you take any of the images ‘literally’? Does Jesus literally have breasts, wear linen, have a gold band and feet made of literal bronze…?!

      All this language is very precise—but why should precision imply literalness…?

      Yes indeed, each generation sees Revelation in its own day—because of the kind of language that it uses.

      • Following your link, Ian, and the point made about hyperdispensationalism and the prayer Jesus taught, I recall within the last half a (baker’s) dozen or so years, (note the precise inprecision) Andrew Wilson addressed the very point. It remains a live issue for some, who will not say the prayer. I know someone who adheres to the same line, influenced by Jimmy Swaggart’s teaching including using his study bible.
        Can’t see much call for that teaching, in respect of the prayer, to be countered in the CoE, though.

      • Hi Ian

        Thanks for your response. I do believe much in Revelation is symbolic. Yet I don’t think it is a hard and fast rule. I doubt that hard and fast rules can easily be applied in a book with various genre.

        There were 7 literal churches… 12 apostles… 12 tribes… Rome was built on seven hills… the numerical references to various kings etc. I would accept the 31/2 years as symbolic were there not good reasons to think otherwise. An important consideration is Daniel. I think with John there is more than conceptual borrowing, the borrowing of ideas, I think the connection runs deeper and truths Daniel predicts also appear in Revelation. Daniel uses numbers normally in a literal way though literal and symbolic sometimes overlap.

        Ian, I know you hold to some form of annihilationism. I would like to see this but I have not been able to see it in Scripture. You’ll know the arguments better than I. Clearly as with everlasting bliss everlasting perdition is described using metaphor. However the image has a correspondence to the reality it describes.
        2. OT images of glory and judgement are not so clear on the nature of the afterlife. It is largely to the NT we must look.
        3. The rich man in hell Lk 16. Suggests a place of conscious torment.
        4. 6 He will render to each one according to his works: 7 to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; 8 but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury. 9 There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, 10 but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. Roms 2. Wrath seems to go beyond end-time eschatological wrath eternal wrath.
        5 “If anyone worships the beast and its image and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, 10 he also will drink the wine of God’s wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger, and he will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the
        holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. 11 And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night, these worshipers of the beast and its image, and whoever receives the mark of its name.” The smoke goes up forever because the burning and to torment goes on forever. The lost have no rest night or day. An image yes but not of annihilation but eternal suffering.
        6. Do not fear those who can kill the body and afterwards have no more that they can do. But I will warn you whom to fear: fear the one who after he has killed has authority to cast into hell; yes, I tell you, fear him. (Luke 12:4, 5).
        7. Then we have those left ‘outside’ and in ‘outer darkness’…. ‘Weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth’… ‘beaten with many stripes and beaten with few stripes’…
        These and many other related texts suggest destruction is not annihilation; not a loss of being but of well-being.


  23. Jesus as land?

    or Bound for the Promised Land?

    This is from the last chapter in, *Bound for the Promised Land – The land promise in God’s Redemptive Plan* by Oren R. Martin (NSBT series).

    1 “….covenant theology tends to move from the OT to the New too quickly before comprehensively developing the land theme across the OT, both in its historical and epochal horizons… (Or in the phrase of Andrew Wilson -theological (of) history)…

    2… “When this process is accomplished, the NT demonstrates HOW the OT is brought to fulfilment in Christ, though in a way that does not reinterpret, spiritualise or contravene the earlier texts..

    3 “The NT demonstrates that what was promised in the OT is fulfilled in the person and work of Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham, the son of Adam, the son of God.

    4 “Jesus -the true Israel- inaugurates the kingdom through his birth, life and death and resurrection and finally delivers his people from the exile of sin….

    5 “He interprets the eschatological land through the many typological and universalized texts in the OT (Matthew 5:5)

    6 “He makes a new covenant people- described as new creations and a new temple- with those united to him, the true temple. (made up of Jew and Gentile)

    7 “This new people await their final home, the new heaven and new earth…

    8…”which is cast in terms of a paradisal garden-temple city.

    9 “… the variegated realities of the OT promises – the expansive city, temple and land- overlap with the new creation won by Christ (Revelation, 21-22)/
    10″… Israel’s land promises reach fulfilment of their original design when redeemed people from every tribe, tongue and nation and people fill and inhabit the whole earth…will inherit the whole earth in fulfilment of God’s gracious and irrevocable promises…

    11″… Dispensationalist agree that if the land promise to Israel is unconditional, then the ultimate fulfilment must be to the nation of Israel, regardless of how the Nt applies the OT texts…

    12 “… progressive and revised dispensationalism agree, but progressives understanding of typology allow some OT promises, prophesies for Israel to find typological fulfilment in the church, but does not exhaust them.

    13 that is, “fulfilment is only partial”..So “some spiritual aspects apply to the church (new people of God) the territorial aspects of God’s promises to the Nation of Israel will still be kept, fulfilled in the future.

    14This approach to typological fulfilment “does not do full justice to the NT presentation of the already – not yet character of the kingdom or nature of typological fulfilment in Scripture, this eschatological does not *merely* mean that part of the kingdom is present now in the church and part of it will be present later in the nation of Israel.”
    15 “Instead the NT shows that *all* of God’s saving promises have *already been fulfilled in Christ” ..*And that these promises are *Expanding where Christ is present.*” Now and finally in the new heaven and new earth and age to come.*”

    16…”Secondly, Scripture presents the NT antitype to filfil the Ot type, for and in and through the person and work of Christ all of God’s promisess have reached their *telos.*

    17″ This point is what distinguishes this from replacement theology..

    18″…it is not that the church replaces Israel and inherits her blessings, rather, Israel finds its fulfilment not in a community but in an individual Son of God…

    19 “The Bible’s use of typology is consistently characterised by an eschatological escalation or intensification, in the the progression from type and antitype, from promise to fulfilment…

    20 ” Futhermore biblical typology is *Christotelic.*

    21… OT types do not merely correspond analogically to NT types, but were designed by God to be a “shadow of good things to come.” (Hebrews 10:1)

    “Indeed, all of God’s promises find their ultimate terminus in the person and work of Christ as the culmination of God’s redemptive plan, which will end in nothing less than a new creation for all of his people *in Christ*.”

  24. To add a different perspective;

    I have attempted several times over the last couple of years to open up the book of revelation with children and young people, with admittedly some mixed success. One of the consistent responses though is that young people especially (and I’m mainly talking about teenagers here) come to the letter expecting it to be a code to crack, and are then surprised and occasionally disappointed that it’s not.

    They come, in other words, with the assumption that they cannot understand it, and so they are discouraged from trying.

    Here’s a simple activity I’ve done a few times before. I split the young people into pairs (or threes), and asked them to write a message to each other, in silence. The message has to be something about their plans for that afternoon (or the next day). However, the catch is that I get to read the messages first and if I am able to decipher the message and work out what they’re planning, I win.

    The game then, is that they need to write something sufficiently clear for each other to understand and translate, something using their language, idioms, slang and pop culture references, but ones that the authority figure (me) can’t pin down. (aside, I’m usually pretty good at this, teenagers are not as subtle as they think they are!).

    What I then do is reveal, as if by magic, the similarities between the sort of the things they’ve written and the sorts of things John writes in his letter.

    The questions of timings remain (when is John writing about), as do the obvious difficulties with stories and ideas utterly foreign to us (python and leto etc), but the principle barriers are easily overcome with a little imagination…

    Not sure what I was getting at when I started writing this comment…..

    Uh, good article.

    • I should have expanded that that the similarities between what the teenagers write and what John does are usually threefold.

      1. Substitution of animals for people, or vice-versa.
      2. Use of ‘mythic’ language; such as dragons, unicorns, wizards etc, and fictional places such as Hogwarts.
      3. Things being described in terms of colour (as an indicator of emotion) and light (as an indicator of either purity or clarity). This is often the most fun one to point out, as it’s often subconscious. 😉

      The point is that this isn’t an exhaustive, “look, you can write apocalyptic too!”, but a breaking down of the barrier and the notion that John has written something impossible to understand, for people he doesn’t know and would never meet.

      • Really interesting Matt

        A book many would avoid, put off by the genre/imagery can actually be a real connection to an age group used to reading such

        The question I guess comes on where/whether such things in Revelation are literal and actual or figurative, symbolic, metaphorical etc

        • The question I guess comes on where/whether such things in Revelation are literal and actual or figurative, symbolic, metaphorical etc

          True. I don’t think otherwise.

          But to me this is always the secondary question when I talk about Revelation with others. John’s choice of language is the vehicle by which his message travels; and the principle focus of the letter is not so much the specific meaning of his imagery (though this is of course extremely important, and hotly debated) but the grander themes of hope amidst trials, the relationship of the church towards hostile forces, and the expectation of future restoration and reunion.

          I suspect most of us would at least agree with that, and in my experience most churches don’t even go that deep into the letter, so further conversation is somewhat pointless.

          We’ll never understand the details of the language and structure John uses if we can’t even agree what he’s actually trying to tell us*. 😉


    • That’s really interesting. In some ways, though, Revelation is a ‘code to be cracked’, but mostly in the kind of cultural way that you indicate. I offer a cultural ‘decoding’ in my Grove booklet. I would love to read some of your youth examples!

      On Python and Leto, I find it very effective to tell a story: ‘There was a girl with curly, golden hair and she found a house in woods with three bowls of porridge—a large bowl, a medium bowl, and a small bowl. As she was eating, the bears came back to the house, and were about to kill her when Jesus came, killed the bears and rescued the girl.’

      People can tell I am explaining the ‘gospel’ using the vehicle of a story they know—but they can also see how odd this is, and how very odd it would be if you don’t know the background story. I then read the myth of Python and Leto next to Rev 12, and the penny drops.


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