Is the Jubilee in the Book of Revelation?

One of the challenges in reading the Book of Revelation is that it is very theologically dense in the way it presents its ideas. There are several reasons for this:

  1. Its dense metaphorical language (commonly called its ‘symbolism’) carries theological weight. For example, the compressed phrase ‘a lamb, looking as though it had been slain, standing…’ (Rev 5.6) is only four words in Greek ἀρνίον ἑστηκὸς ὡς ἐσφαγμένον yet it encapsulates the idea of Jesus as crucified and risen, conquering not through the violent oppression of imperial power but through self sacrifice as a faithful witness to God, in turn offering an example for his disciples to follow.
  2. Its use of a dense network of allusions to the Old Testament, interweaved with cultural ideas from its first century context, both of which would have been well known to John as writer and many of his readers. We can see this in the combination of imagery in Rev 4–5 in depicting the ‘worship of heaven’ using language of OT worship integrated with language from the imperial cult. In a similar way, Rev 12 uses the plot of the Leto myth but populates it with characters from the biblical story.
  3. John uses numbers and their symbolic significance to do a lot of theological ‘heavy lifting’. So the New Jerusalem is described as a cube of 12,000 stadia, a giant, global replica of the Holy of Holies in the first temple (1 Kings 6.20), implying that the people of God dwell in intimacy in the presence of the holiness of God, and thus serve as high priests, something confirmed by having the name of God and of the lamb on their foreheads (Rev 22.4). In a similar vein, the enumerated Israel of God in Rev 7.4–8 (who are also the uncountable people of God from ‘every nation, tribe, people and language’ in Rev 7.9) are 144,000, a square times a cube, signifying that, in the overlap of the ages as we await the full consummation of the kingdom of God, they function as the temple presence of God in the world (compare 1 Cor 3.16 and 1 Peter 2.5; in the latter, we are both the holy place and the priesthood serving within it).

These three things often overlap and interact, so that (for example) the meaning of numerical symbolism itself depends on understanding the Old Testament background. A particularly important example is John’s use of the triple time reference ‘time, times and half a time’ = 42 months = 1,260 days in Rev 11–12. Even before we consider the symbolic significance of these numbers, separately and together, we can see their importance in the structure of the narrative. On the one hand, every commentator notes that radical shift in register of language between the end of chapter 11 and the beginning of chapter 12; as a result, most comment that the disjuncture here is the most obvious break within the text. On the other, the threefold time reference only occurs in these two chapters, and serves to tie them very closely to one another in a modified chiastic pattern:

11.2 The nations will trample the holy city for forty-two months

11.3 my two witnesses will prophesy for 1,260 days

12.6 the woman is nourished for 1,260 days

12.14 the woman is nourished for a time, and times, and half a time

13.5 the beast exercises authority for forty-two months.

As I note in my IVP Tyndale Commentary on Rev 11.2, John describes the trampling of the (spiritual) temple as the ‘time of the Gentiles’, which Matthew 24 connects with Daniel’s time of desolation, as 42 months, which in a calendar of 12 months per year equates to three and a half years, or a ‘half week’ of years (as in Dan. 7:25; 9:27; 12:7). The significance of 42 within the biblical canon is that it is the number of ‘stations’ or places where God’s people camped during the journey through the wilderness according to the listing in Numbers 33. (Although the number 42 is not mentioned in the listing of ‘stations’ in Num 33, the number has been important in both Jewish and Christian traditions. The Italian mediaeval writer Dante modeled his poetic work La Vita Nuova on the stations in its 42 chapters.)

John is therefore further identifying the ‘time of the Gentiles’ and their trampling not only with the suffering of the half-week of Daniel but also with the time of the wilderness wanderings which followed the ten plagues of Egypt and deliverance of the Passover. 

John has previously used square and cubed numbers (144, 1,000) to signify the people of God, and will do so again in the vision of the New Jerusalem. He will use a ‘triangular’ number – one that can be represented by objects arranged in a triangle of equal sides, like the 15 red balls as the start of a frame of snooker – to signify the arch enemy of God’s people in the number of the beast (666, the 36th triangular number). At the start of this apocalyptic, prophetic letter, he described himself as a subject both of the ‘kingdom’ and of the ‘suffering’ that comes from hostility to God’s people, being in exile on Patmos (1:9). If the priestly kingdom of God and his people (1:6) is signified by square numbers, and the suffering arising from opposition by the forces of evil is signified by triangular numbers, it would fit if John is using rectangular numbers to signify the overlap of the two – numbers formed by multiplying not the same number by itself, but a number by its successor. Both 42 (= 6 x 7) and 1,260 (= 35 x 36) are rectangles; rectangles look very much like squares, but are also closely related to triangles since each rectangle is double the corresponding triangle (42 is twice the sixth triangle 21, and 1,260 is twice the 35th triangle 630).

The number 42 is therefore doing a large amount of theological work:

  • by its allusion to the period of wilderness wanderings in the Exodus;
  • by its identification numerically with the time of tribulation in Daniel;
  • by its mathematical significance as a rectangular number, standing between the squares numbers of holiness and the triangular numbers of evil and opposition to God.

John is therefore telling his readers about the time they are living in, a time which theologically (between Jesus ascension and his return) we are living in too.

First, this is the ‘time of the nations’ or ‘gentiles’, in that it appears as though God’s people (as his temple, his dwelling place on earth) are being trampled just as the Jerusalem temple was trampled by the power of Rome. Yet it is also a time of preservation and protection, since the inner part of the temple – the spiritual heart of God’s people – enjoys his presence and assurance. 

Secondly, this is a transitional time of journeying, since God’s people are travelling from one station to another, having been set free from slavery (enslaved not by Egypt but by sin, Rev. 1:5) but having not yet entered the promised land of dwelling in the full presence of God which is the constant hope on the horizon in every section of Revelation. 

Thirdly, by a clever numerical identification, this journeying of 42 ‘stages’ is also the time of tribulation anticipated in the visions of Daniel. 

This is a time for God’s people of maintaining the true worship of God by refusing to compromise their allegiance and instead fulfilling their calling to be a kingdom of priests. It is a time to offer prophetic testimony to God, just as the prophets before them had done so even though they too had suffered oppression. It is a time in which the nations gloat over their failure and even death, and yet a time when they experience God’s resurrection power. Although they are a small, vulnerable group, in their faithfulness they follow the example of their Lord and so experience both crucifixion and resurrection as he did.

But this number might be doing even more work, because of another significance in the Old Testament which I had not previously noticed. James Bejon, who is a researcher at Tyndale House in Cambridge, just published this exploration of the number 42 in relation to the year of Jubilee.

Ezra 2’s list of clans deserves serious attention. Consider, for a start, some of its numerical properties.

  • It begins with the classic introduction to Biblical lists of people, viz. ‘Now these…’ (וְאֵלֶּה), which has a gematrial value of 42.
  • Its historical purpose is to detail the community membership of a total of 42,000 individuals (to the nearest thousand) (Ezra 2.64).
  • Its main body consists of 42 head-counts.
  • Its list of Temple staff consists of 42 clans (35 clans of Temple servants, 6 clans of gatekeepers, and one clan of singers).
  • And its lowest number happens to be 42—that is to say, its smallest clan consists of 42 individuals. (Note: My calculations exclude the clans listed in Ezra 2.59–62, since they are explicitly said to have been unable to document their ancestry, given which their priests were excluded from the priesthood. For details, see the Appendix.)

That Ezra 2 is built around the number 42 is significant, since the number 42 is connected with the climax of a Jubilee cycle, which is precisely what Ezra 2 describes.

Consider a few notable properties of the number 42:

  • Scripture views half a week of years as ‘42 months’ (e.g., Rev. 11.2, 13.5), which anticipates the completion of a full week (and ultimately of a week of weeks). Note how the 42 months of Revelation 11 lead up to the moment when the seventh angel blows his trumpet (shofar?) and declares God’s ownership of the earth (‘The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord!’), which is of course the foundational principle of the Jubilee, viz. ‘The land shall not be sold in perpetuity, for the land is mine!’ (Lev. 25.23). Like the Israelites, we are mere tenants.
  • The number 42 is made up of six groups of seven (6 x 7), in which respect it anticipates a seventh week, i.e., the climax of a Jubilee cycle.
  • The Gospels depict the arrival of the Messiah as the culmination of both a 42-generation genealogy and a 84-year wait (42 x 2 years) (hence Jesus’ announcement of ‘the year of the Lord’s favour’: Luke 4.19).
  • And 42 happens to be the gematrial value of the word ‘Jubilee’ (יֹבֵל).

The number 42 is thus a distinctly Jubilee-esque number. Meanwhile, the text of Ezra is (canonically) intended to signal a second Jubilee moment in Israel’s history. Consider, by way of illustration, the shape of the book of Chronicles and the way it flows into the book of Ezra: in chs. 1–9, the Chronicler settles the twelve tribes in their respective territories; then, in the main body of the book, the Chronicler describes the disintegration of the Israelites’ unity; and, at the climax of the book, the Chronicler describes the rise of Jehoiachin and his generation, which represents the 49th generation from Adam—or, counted inclusively (like the Jubilee), the 50th (cp. Lev. 25.8ff.).

Appropriately, then, in the book of Chronicles’ final paragraph, Jehoachin’s generation is returned to their homeland (2 Chr. 36), in the aftermath of which each man is said to ‘settle in his own town’ (Ezra 2.1) in true Jubilee fashion.

The text of Ezra thus depicts a fresh start for Israel—the inauguration of a second Jubilee cycle in the nation’s history. And these notions are embodied in the numerical properties of Ezra’s clan list:

  • Ezra’s clans are headed up by twelve leaders (1.11–2.2), which serves to portray them as a new Israel.
  • Ezra’s list consists of 98 clans, i.e., a double-Jubilees’ worth (7 x 7 x 2; Ezra 2.3–57).
  • And the total head-count of Ezra’s assembly amounts to 42,360, which is noteworthy since 42 is the gematrial value of ‘Jubilee’ (as we have seen) and 360 is the value of ‘second’ (שֵׁנִי).

That point is underlined by the numerical properties of John’s Gospel:

  • John is built around a Jubilee-esque chronological framework, as I’ve sought to show here.
  • John has a particular interest in Jesus’ selection and preservation of ‘the twelve’ (cp. John 6.67ff. with 6.39, 18.9), which resonates with Ezra’s twelve leaders.
  • John refers to Jesus’ disciples by name exactly 98 times (cp. below), which resonates with Ezra’s 98 named clans.
  • And the numbers associated with Ezra’s list of clans are spelt out by means of exactly 153 Hebrew words, which resonates with John’s count of 153 fish at the end of his Gospel. (Note: In my calculations, I’ve excluded surnames—e.g., I’ve only counted ‘Judas Iscariot’ as a single name occurrence; similarly, in the case of Ezra’s clan names, I’ve excluded higher level clans—e.g., I’ve only counted ‘the sons of Pahath-Moab, namely of Jeshua and Joab’ as two clan names [‘Jeshua’ and ‘Joab’] rather than three.)

Viewed against the backdrop of Ezra, then, John’s epilogue anticipates the formation of a new covenant community (the Church), which it sees as the culmination of a long, Jubilee-shaped sweep of history. And that community, John tells us, will ‘gather into one’ (cp. John 11.52’s εἰς ἕν with Ezra 2.64’s כְּאֶחָד) ‘all the children of God’—a phrase which seems particularly apt in light of the gematrial value of the Hebrew for ‘children of God’ (בְּנֵי הָאֱלֹהִים), viz. 153.

In his full article, James includes all the tables of his calculations, so that (for instance in his claims about the number of times names are mentioned in John) anyone can test his working and see whether his claim is true—which is a vital part of the argument.

There are some important things to note out of all this; I will start with the most general, and move to the more specific.

First, for most ordinary readers (and not a few specialists) the temptation will be to throw one’s hands up in the air at all this speculative stuff! But there are two important issues to note. For one thing, in a culture where copying of texts is done by hand, and where great attention is paid to the actual words on the page (or parchment, or papyrus), noticing numbers of terms and frequency of their occurrence is actually a quite natural approach to reading and writing. And in a world where there is no separate number system, so every letter has a number and thus every word has a value, noticing the numbers associated with letters and words is also a natural part of reading and writing.

Related to that, the reason why it is important that James includes his actual calculations is so that we can see whether this is indeed part of the text, and not just some imagined system in the mind of the modern reader.

Secondly, the importance of this kind of numerical composition is not that it provides some secret, magical code, but that the numbers, alongside the semantic content of the language, are bearers of meaning. The readers of Ezra are intended to understand that the return to the land and the restoration of both temple worship and Torah obedience are a new Jubilee. There is a theological issue at stake. Similarly, John intends his readers (including us) to understand the time we live in, the ‘inaugurated eschatology’ of the now and not yet of the kingdom of God, to be a time of tribulation, of provision by God, of wilderness journeying from slavery to the promised land—and, as it now turns out, as an anticipation of the Jubilee when Jesus returns, some of which we are already experiencing.

Thirdly, there is a sense in which James’ observations about Ezra and the meaning of 42 add a further dimension to our reading of Revelation in the way I have just suggested. But perhaps it therefore also points to a connection between the OT texts themselves. Is the language of Jubilee itself connected with the desert wanderings in Exodus by means of the number 42? Is the rationale for Jubilee, with its affirmation of the land as God’s own, and the need for rest, not an integral part of the theology of the Exodus? Is Daniel’s language of abomination and tribulation perhaps also pointing to Jubilee as the final resolution of the situation of testing in exile?

Finally, given the theological significance, the cultural function, and the evident presence of numerical composition of the biblical texts, isn’t it time for this kind of approach, done in a coherent and disciplined way, to come in from the cold and take its place in mainstream biblical studies?

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100 thoughts on “Is the Jubilee in the Book of Revelation?”

  1. I’m just going out so had to skim read this post.
    Did you mention the genealogy of Jesus in Matthew?
    Thanks. Back soon to read this again.

  2. The wilderness journey lasted 40 years, not 42, and Acts 13:8 has nothing to say on the matter.

    Regarding the 42 months (=1260 days) of Rev 11:2, the IVP commentary asserts that this is ‘a theological description of the present period between Jesus’ exaltation and his return’. ‘John reconfigures Daniel’s understanding of this time; it now becomes the time from Jesus’ death, resurrection and exaltation all the way until he returns again.’

    For ‘reconfigures’, read ‘contradicts’. In my opinion, this is not a good way to read Scripture or indeed any text.

    • Acts 13.8 was a simple typo for Acts 13.18.

      My commentary doesn’t *assert* these things; it demonstrates from the text why this is the case.

      The text of scripture was written in a world where people paid attention to these things; both my research and James’ demonstrates these things are present in the text; they cohere with the broader theological outlook. But you don’t think this approach is a good one? How odd. It suggests you don’t agree with reading the text carefully, reading it in its historical context, and understanding how these texts would be received by their first audience.

      If you don’t like what I write, why not just read other blogs instead?

      • If you make assertions without foundation or back-up, you should expect and even welcome pushback. I infer from your deleting the reference to Acts 13:18 that you accept it does not support your contention that the wilderness period was 42 years, and I have not seen any demonstration that the witness of Ex 16:35, Num 14:33f, Num 32:13, Deut 2:7, Deut 29:5, and crucially Jos 5:6 is to be discounted.

        I have a copy of your commentary. If you can point to where you demonstrate by robust reasoning that 42 months in Revelation actually means some indefinite period exceeding 1980 years and that Daniel’s prophecy in that respect was false, I will happily withdraw the word ‘assert’, which did indeed imply that a robust argument to that effect was lacking.

    • I am of the view Revelation draws its 42 months mainly from Daniel. His use of days and years to describe this period tends to confirm this as do the features that dominate the period – tribulation, the beast from the sea, the destruction of gentile rule etc. In Daniel this period is a literal period of time. I have yet to be convinced that Revelation’s 42 months is other than literal, we are told it lasts as long as rage reign of the beast. The beast is not simply the Roman Empire,, or gentile power, or the world opposed to God. He is a particular ‘head’ or final manifestation of the Roman Empire (the man of lawlessness or antichrist in Paul or John) who like the little horn almost obliterates the people of God. His reign is not for 2,000 years and counting (he is a human being). It is for 42 months and his end will come as jesus destroys. Him by his appearing and his coming.

      Numbers in Revelation are sometimes literal and sometimes figurative.

      • The fact that John changes Daniel’s calculation to fit with his schema (1,260 days, a rectangle) is prima facie evidence that John is *not* taking it literally, along with his flexibility about whether this is 3.5 days or 3.5 years.

        Neither man of lawlessness nor Antichrist are mentioned in Revelation, and the letters of John tell us there are many antichrists, and that they are already in the world (in the first century). So your claims don’t really connect at all with the text.

        • Hi Ian

          You may be right. I think it’s hard to be dogmatic. I don’t think the 3.5 days is the same as the 3.5 years. I think the features of the Beast from the sea and the man of lawlessness or John’s antichrist (many antichrists point to one antichrist) are very similar.

          Surely you would agree that both Jesus and John depend heavily on Daniel for their eschatology. Daniel sees the time of tribulation to be 42 month. He adds two time periods of days that go beyond the 1260 days (42 months) – 1290 and 1335. It seems impossible (for me at least) to determine why the additional days. I do think they show that Daniel is not using numbers symbolically but literally. Perhaps they point to events that follow the abomination of desolation up until the Second advent.

          I think we tend to forget that monumental though the Second Coming is it is an event that happens within history. Jesus returns to the Mt of Olives. Possibly a literal Jerusalem will be under attack by the nations Zech (12-14)… the nations must be judged and the kingdom set up in a space time continuum. I think whatever your system these last few events apply. Perhaps these extra days belong somewhere in this sequence.

          What I would say with (personal) certainty is that numbers are not uniformly symbolic in Revelation. The various ways 42 months is expressed suggests these are literal numbers; this and the straight line to Daniel. The span of the period is tied, as in Daniel, to the reign of AntiChrist.

          I outdone like to believe the 42 months is symbolic of the whole age. Many believe they are symbolic. I have yet to receive a remotely convincing answer why literal numbers should become symbolic and good reasons for seeing them as symbolic in Revelation. Ch 12:6 is the only text that may point to a symbolic use of 1260.

          I am not arguing for a strict correspondence to Daniel but I do think there requires to be a correspondence and at the moment I don’t think symbolic years cuts it.

          However, I appreciate your tracing of numbers even if in the last analysis I think some mathematics may be too imaginative.

  3. Fascinating. Intrigued by the link to Jubilee. What a summation of (end) time that would be. Yet another Good News whole- Bible facet of (dis)continuity, intra- connectedness. Will look at Bejon at home, thanks.

  4. Ian,
    Here’s one I’ve just thought of:
    The genealogy of Jesus is 3×14. If you put them on three sides of a square leaving the present age as the 4th side ( 14 generations ) it can be expressed as 3.5 ×4 =14.
    = suffering × all the world.
    Am I off the planet here or contributing?

  5. 11.2-13.5 have seven references to 3 and a half but these are split in all the following four ways simultaneously:
    In terminology (i.e. whether 42 months, time/times/half-a-time, 1260 days, 3.5 days), into three pairs and half a pair;
    In terms of what events they refer to, into three pairs and half a pair;
    In terms of the duration of 3.5-year events, into three that had lasted since May/June 66 and were slated to last till Dedication 69 (trampling of Jerusalem, war on the saints, decampment to Pella in Perea) and one which also lasted since May/June 66 but was cut short after one and three quarter years at Purim 68: the preaching of Peter and Paul (two preachings @ 1.75 years = 3.5 years): hence, three durations of 3.5 years and one of half that. Another three-and-a-half pattern;
    In terms of whether they are equivalent, into three lengths of time that are totally equivalent and one (3.5 days) that is half-equivalent: equivalent in enumeration but not in length.

    The ‘what events’ (point 2) needs further elucidation. John superimposes Peter and Paul on High Priests Ananus and Joshua, switching para by para, to highlight the ways in which the two sequences of events are spiritually one, as Rome, Sodom, Eqypt and Jerusalem are to that extent spiritually one. He may have been prompted by the coincidence of the two chief Jews and the two chief Christians both being killed in tandem at Purim 68.

    • Given that two of the above four patterns (nos 3-4) relate to duration and therefore are not wholly distinct from one another, maybe his aim was to make his 3.5s be 3.5s in 3.5 different ways.

  6. Misreading the signs and identity.
    Today, in a local supermarket, my wife, not knowing if the store had double-sided sticky tape, saw a man with some sort of identity displayed. “Excuse me, do you work here ?”, she asked. “Does it look as though I work here? I’m a surgeon”, he replied.
    (Comment, there are no known nearby operating theatres.)
    She saw him again in another part of the store and, looking in more detail, seeing that he was wearing a smart dark blue suit, apologized, “I didn’t mean to insult you.” “I’ve been sent here by my nurses, to get something” was a warmer reply.

    Maybe this is an illustration that goes better with John the Baptiser passage, though as the whole of scripture points to the true identity of God and his works, in contrast to counterfeits, perhaps not.

    • A rather arrogant response, which sadly may be typical of surgeons and consultants. A shop manager could very well be wearing a smart suit. But good to know ‘his’ nurses clearly have him under their thumbs!


  7. One more shot at this.
    that is one short of a Jubilee
    So, in multiples of 7:
    8×7 =a Jubilee+
    But a Jubilee is 50? Perhaps, but a Jubilee may be 50+ or let’s say 56.
    56/4 = 14
    14 to David, 14 to Jechonia, 14 to Jesus and then 14 to the second coming.
    14 =2×7 two perfect witnesses. We are in the age of the Word & Testimony, The Two Witnesses.

    • Steve

      It may be my mind but I cannot see these kind of number games in Scripture. The exception is Revelation where numbers do appear to have been used a little more esoterically. Having said that, I think the difference between your approach in these matters and Ian’s is mainly one of degree… Yes, perhaps Ian roots his gematria type calculations more in the text but he still seems to be able to do imaginative leaps that I find a bit bizarre and I’d place in the category of endless genealogies.

  8. Friends, something odd appears to have happened to commenting on my blog.

    The column seems to fill up quite quickly with people saying ‘Ian, you are a crap scholar, so here is my pet theory.’

    To be really honest, I am just not interested in that kind of comment. If that is what you think, can I politely suggest you go away and read someone else’s blog?

    What I am interested in is serious engagement and discussion. If you want to do that, you are most welcome.

    • Hi Ian,
      I’m with you all the way , but I know I’m not up to the standard you would wish as an intelligent theologian. What should I do? If you wish I’ll go my esoteric way. I’ve no wish to be a bore.

    • Ian – well, I do have a problem with this piece about Revelation, but no criticism at all about the scholarship, which is on the highest level, logically consistent and well argued.

      At the same time, from an average-Joe-Christian point of view, I have very serious reservations about it; it almost looks like using Scripture for prognostication. I always thought that the message should be discernible in any reasonable translation – also that it should be discernible from the words of Scripture themselves to someone who was ignorant of civilisation at that time in the Roman and Palestinian societies.

      So (for example) learning something about how society operated at the time of the birth of Jesus might help me understand the Christmas story better (and many thanks for the clear description of why Jesus was not born in a stable), but the main message should be there loud and clear without having to study these thing (in the example of Jesus not being born in a stable, the clue is the phrase ‘at the inn’ – indicating that they were housed at an inn and not a stable – `no room’ meaning `no room for the baby’ i.e. they didn’t have a crib and had to improvise. That, at least, was my naive understanding – based solely on the English translation – before I read your piece on the subject).

      So my whole problem with this piece on Revelation is: while the author may indeed have known about ‘gematrical values’, while he may indeed have been amusing himself with rectangular numbers while on the Isle of Patmos. He may have been aware of an association of the number 666 with Nero – and while he may well have been able to work all this into the book of Revelation, I’m convinced that he was writing for remote posterity and I have huge problems accepting that there are topics of great doctrinal import which depend on these things. If he were announcing a Jubilee, surely that would be important – and should be clear to the reader who isn’t very clever with numbers and gematrical values (also, 666 should have a broader meaning, which average-Joe-Christian who knows nothing about Nero should be able to figure out).

      • But why, for example, should 666 have a broader meaning? Why should everything written 2000 years ago in a different culture and language be perfectly easy to understand today? Has God not given us brains to work some things out and made us rely on others to help us understand? Personally I find it fascinating, and perhaps indicates that God likes to leave a little mystery for us to work out.

        PS I mean no disrespect, but sometimes I know I come across as rather abrupt.

  9. Ian

    Let me say I am not making judgements on your scholarly ability. Nor that of a few others who comment on the blog. That being said, I don’t perhaps value scholarship at the level you may think I should. Too many scholars, some top notch, have been wildly wrong and indeed apostate. That is no side swipe at you.

    My assessment of any Bible teacher is how well they deal with Scripture. I want them to convince me from Scripture. I respect solid biblical evidence. I do not come to this blog thinking you are always right or always wrong. What I do know is I am likely to be stimulated to think. I may challenge your viewpoint, probing to see if you can convince me otherwise. You have some positions I think you are wrong on (original sin, penal substitution, male leadership, eternal punishment…). I confess I find your views on these issues perplexing. Where aa position seems as clear as daylight to me I struggle to understand a good mind who thinks something quite different. There are issues where i can see room for different perspectives but others where I have difficulty being so generous. Sometimes on these issues I get too involved when I should simply let it go.

    However Ian, do you just want yes-men who will politely ask you a question and then defer to your wisdom or do you want interaction that sometimes requires defending? Do you give contrary viewpoints the curtesy of some consideration? Do you learn anything from contrary points of view? I think we learn more from these than sycophantic comments.

    Ian, are your views pet theories? Mine are not. They almost always represent a mainstream point of view. They have been forged over 50 years of Bible study often burning the midnight oil. They may be wrong but they are convictions sometimes born out of suffering and never lightly adopted.

    You Ian, almost always write about subjects that are controversial. Your position in various areas is controversial. You should expect controversy. We are not your enemy. Most of us are your brothers. With brothers constructive debate is good. Despite our differences, I come to learn by challenging. In my generation it was how we were taught to learn. I hope you have a place for this but if not so be it.

    God bless

    • John, you say that you don’t take symbolically ‘literal numbers’. What on earth do you mean by that?

      Do you think there are a literal seven spirits before the throne? Does Jesus have literal bronze feet? Does he literally hold seven literal stars? Are there only seven literal cities in Asia? Are there four literal horsemen? A literal scroll in the literal hand of God with seven literal seals on it? Seven literal angels with seven literal trumpets? Are there literally to be 144,000 saved? Four literal creatures around the throne? Literal thousands time ten thousands of angels?

      Challenge is a standard part of discussion. But most of the comments here are of the kind ‘Ian you are clearly completely wrong’. If people think so, then what is the point of commenting?

      Commenting on a post like this means engaging with the issues raised, not dismissing them.

      • Hi Ian

        I think that Revelation is a highly symbolic book as you ably show in your commentary. Language is more likely to be symbolic than real. Yet in a symbolic book there is also literal narrative. For example in the seals wars, famines etc are real. In Ch 13 the persecution of believers is real. In the churches the formalism in Ephesus was real. There were also seven literal churches. I take the seven hilled city to be a literal number. Numbers of heads and horns are normally real referring to Roman emperors. As a general rule, where numbers are unusual I take them to be real. Other numbers that are more obviously stylised I take as symbolic. Numbers like 144,000 or 1000. Some numbers like seven are sometimes both real and symbolic (seven churches).

        I find the 31/2 years, 1260 days/42 months more likely to be real because a) of the variety of ways it is expressed b) the limiting of the time frame to the reign of the Beast from the sea who I see to be a person c) the literal use of the time frame in Daniel.

        Ian, I normally explain why I disagree and try to support any contrary position I advance. You may be unimpressed by my arguments and that’s fine though I suspect we both get frustrated if what makes good sense to one makes no sense to the other.

        I’m sorry you feel beleaguered, You put a good deal of work into a post. I shall endeavor when challenging to do so more circumspectly.

        • PS. The seven heads of he beast are a good example of the complexity of the book. They are the seven hills on which the city sits and they are also seven kings – literal kings five of whom are fallen, one is and one is yet to come.

  10. That the return of the Babylonian exiles to their homeland marked the fulfilment of a jubilee is historically demonstratable. To quote from my book, When the Towers Fall: A prophecy of what must happen soon, where I explain the seventy years and seventy times seven years in Daniel 9:

    The final, most sweeping deportation took place in 586 BC (II Ki 25:8-12). After destroying Jerusalem by fire and pulling down its walls, Nebuchadrezzar
    ‘removed those who had escaped from the sword to Babylon, and they became servants to him and his sons [i.e. successors] until the reign of the kingdom of Persia, to fulfil the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah, until the land had enjoyed its sabbaths. All the days that it lay desolate it kept sabbath, to fulfil seventy years.’ (II Chr 36:20f)
    The sabbaths were a reference to the 50-year cycle of the Law of Moses (Kawashima 2003), the last year being a year of jubilee (Lev 25):
    “For six years you shall sow your field, and for six years you shall prune your vineyard and gather its fruits, but in the seventh year there shall be a sabbath rest for the land, a sabbath to the LORD. … And you shall count seven weeks of years, seven times seven years, so that the time of the seven weeks of years shall give you forty-nine years. And on the tenth day of the seventh month you shall sound the trumpet. On the Day of Atonement you shall sound the trumpet throughout your land. And you shall consecrate the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants.”
    A little later God warned the people that if they broke their covenant with him,
    “I myself will devastate the land, so that your enemies, when they settle in it, shall be appalled. And I will scatter you among the nations, and unsheathe the sword after you, and your land shall be a desolation and your cities a waste. Then the land shall enjoy all its sabbaths, as long as it lies desolate and you are in your enemies’ land.”
    Daniel was painfully aware that this had come to pass. “All Israel has transgressed your law and turned aside, refusing to obey your voice. The curse and oath written in the Law of Moses the servant of God have been poured out on us.”

    So in 586 BC the land was vacated and in 537, 49 years later, some of the exiles returned to their land. In the seventh month they built an altar and offered burnt offerings on it, including the offering of the Day of Atonement, and celebrated the Feast of Tabernacles. In so doing, they inaugurated the year of jubilee. We know of two other occasions when the jubilee was celebrated. The first was in 687-686 (date inferred), when Isaiah assured Hezekiah that God would rescue besieged Jerusalem from the Assyrians and the people would eat what grew of itself for two years (the 49th and 50th years) and only sow and reap in the third year (II Ki 19:29f). The second was in 587 BC, when Zedekiah ordered Jerusalem, again under siege, to grant slaves their liberty. Subsequently, they changed their minds and took the slaves back (Jer 34:6-11).

  11. Jesus rose again on the 8th day after resting on the sabbath. This is the ultimate cycle of sevens fulfilled.
    7×7 s presages Jubilee. Jesus is the Jubilee. He is 8×7
    When Jesus made a barbecue for the seven he was the eighth present. There is to me somehng symbolic in that too. However, I don’t fret about understanding these things when they pop up when reading scripture. Just like a real rose is far more complex than a photograph of a rose, John recorded faithfully what he saw and in so doing wrote the Word on to the page. He was probably amazed when clever people found things in Revelation that he had not noticed at the time of writing. The Word is living like a rose . The best a theologian can do is write a picture of a rose.
    So I think Revelation does have a Jubilee, it’s Jesus. He comes after every set of seven. He is , shall we say, a lamp stand that looks like a son of man. He stands among seven golden lamp stands as the eighth.
    Finally, after 7 sets of 7s He is the Lamp in the New Jerusalem.
    I can’t be bothered to analyse it further. My roses I keep for myself to enjoy; I’ve no need to pull the petals off to see the structure.
    Hmmm, “my rose I keep for myself” reminds me of something from Song of Songs. I’ll look that up

  12. Thanks Stephen and Steve.
    When we ponder all the themes and allusion in the OT that find their fulfilment in Christ it may be a cause of some wonder that Jubilee has not been spotted in Revelation, till now ( seemingly so.) May that be because we don’t know the OT well enough, or there is a divide between OT and NT scholarship, that NT scholarship takes a distinct, discrete, almost stand alone priority?
    DA Carson who embraces Biblical theology as well as systematic Viz NSIBT series, has a series of lectures on Revelation, which I’ve not listened to, but it would be interesting to see the extent of application.
    I’ll end with a point made previously: it seems to me that some Messianic Jews see connections that are missed or significance overlooked by some NT scholarship.

    • Revelation is like a rhyme where the last word is left blank at the end of every stanza.

      The humour is in figuring out what that word might be. The clue is it must rhyme.

      In revelation the rhyme is in the pattern of sevens. We are left to fill in the blanks.
      What is the 8th ?

      What or who is the last word?

      Revelation is all about Jesus.

      Even the Bowls of Wrath sequence should leave one to exclaim, “Jesus suffered like that!”

      It should not primarily leave the reader to gloat that at some future date the wicked get what they deserve. They do, of course, but that is secondary. The scene is about Jesus Passion. It holds us in awe of Him.

      So, each cycle of sevens should have us all shouting “Jesus!” And then we recapitulate the sevens and see how Jesus fulfilled each stanza.

      I’m making this up as I type. I’m open to suggestions. Just thinking out loud.

  13. Whether Rev numbers are literal has been discussed here before; clearly not all are. A case by case basis is always best. Good candidates for being precise are:
    -666 (hence the agreed identification with Nero, and hence the title psephizo);
    -7 kings and an 8th. Daniel, 8th Sibylline etc have intentional identifications for the kings of which they speak. Also having an 8th is not neat, and was forced upon John (a lover of 7s) by events.
    -5 months
    -2 witnesses
    -7000 dead in the earthquake
    -7 churches
    -24 elders, because elsewhere he speaks of a 12+12 (all 24 of whom are elders)
    -7 angels who stand in the presence of God – this number cannot be otherwise, because of Enoch
    -42 months etc – in the sense that (as we learn from Josephus and from common sense) people scour prophecies at crisis times, and the ones they scour most are naturally the countdown ones (Jeremiah as transformed by Daniel). Four things coincided in time: the Danielic cessation of sacrifice (for the emperor) – which explicitly marks for Josephus the start of the war, even without reference to Daniel; the start of the war/rebellion in 66; the flight to Pella (foregrounded by both Mark and Rev) dated by Eusebius to ‘before the war’, sc immediately before; the setting up of a colossal statue whose posture, based on the Colossus of Rhodes, John references in ch10. It is therefore natural to count down 3.5 years from this midpoint date.
    And he would certainly not know whether ‘the time is near’ or not unless he had dates and numbers in mind.

    On 42, the number 42 is not associated by John with the woman fleeing through the wilderness (nor sufficiently early in tradition with the wilderness staging posts), to which other numbers or time markers are assigned in Rev. Secondly, John’s desire to create a system of three-and-a-halves more than adequately accounts for his use of ’42 months’ whose purpose is to allow him to designate the same time period in the required number of ways.

    On chiasmus, most chiasmi (ABA at simplest) are unintentional, making an incomplete one even more questionable. But the chiasmus is not essential to the argument above.

    The jubilee gematria of 42 deserves careful consideration. Jubilees are 49s that extend to 50, and given that this is the case, John may not have desired to overcomplicate numerically. But the 7×7 of the book as a whole, together with the expected positive ending of the 42 month period (Dedication 69 tied in with funeral and wedding songs) evince his strongly calendrical and priestly outlook from which Jubilee-directedness can scarcely be absent.

    On precise contemporary references, it is not likely that he would be keen to make such references to Nero but not to anything else, particularly given awareness that ‘the time is near’, an assertion which he then needs to demonstrate.

    • Christopher wrote, ‘On precise contemporary references, it is not likely that he would be keen to make such references to Nero but not to anything else’.

      From this, I therefore infer that the 666 was not a reference to Nero (although Nero might have motivated the imagery).

      For your average-Joe-Christian, there are some things that make excellent sense to a serious reader who doesn’t have an encyclopedic knowledge of the ancient world. For example, Revelation has, towards the beginning, letters to the seven churches. We can all relate to this, even without understanding the contemporary setting, because we have all seen churches like those that John is writing to, we’ve seen Christians who have the faults and merits of the church people that John is referring to in his letters.

      Similarly, when your average-Joe-serious-Christian reads Revelation 13, without having first done a university degree about the Roman empire, the verses ‘One of the heads of the beast seemed to have had a fatal wound, but the fatal wound had been healed. The whole world was filled with wonder and followed the beast’ make perfect sense to someone completely ignorant of the Johanine world. The fatal wound which had been healed makes it clear to us that this is an imitation of Christ (who was wounded unto death) – and we have *all* seen this *in the contemporary world*, for example huge numbers of people following after preachers who are obvious frauds – for example Jimmy Swaggart – imitation Christians who are fundamentally anti-Christian. We don’t need to know about numerology, we don’t need to know anything about the Roman world in which John lived to figure it out.

      At the end of Revelation 13, we see that that those following after the beast have the mark of the beast (which is 666), which therefore the mark assigned to those who are beguiled by false teachers – so I find it very difficult to see where Nero comes into it.

      I’m finding it a bit curious that no-one commenting on this thread (it also wasn’t mentioned in the original post) has pointed out the obvious meaning of the three and a half, which is the reference to the drought in the time of Elijah; 1 Kings says something about three years, while the letter of James makes it three and a half years.

      I could go through the whole of Revelations, showing that, for average-Joe-Christian, the whole book is basically pictures that average-Joe-Christian can relate to, describing the period between the first and second comings of Christ which, in some sense, is a time of trial and tribulation – which is what the three-and-a-half years of drought in the time of Elijah is supposed to be. I’m therefore entirely on-side with those who take the view that the three-and-a-half years, the time, times and half a time, the 42 months, the 1000 years are all symbolic of exactly the same period – the period between the first and second coming of Christ, that the reference to Elijah is in some sense key – and the pictures are pictures that contemporary Christians can relate to (and could relate to in any age from the ascension of Jesus until now and until he returns).

      • First, it’s not Revelations but Revelation.

        Secondly I am the average Joe-mechanic, which makes me perfectly useless in sorting out things that more trained mechanics would be able to do.

        Third, the drought was 3 years before Rev came in with its 3.5 years for Danielic motives; James and Luke then took their cue from Rev. No-one in their right mind would change 3 to 3.5, but Rev had a prior motive to do so, which alone is sufficient to account for this otherwise eccentric change.

        Fourth, your inference is wrong. 666 does refer to Nero for multiple separate reasons; and it is highly unlikely that Nero is the only aspect of contemporary events in which our author has any interest.

          • Christopher – you are accusing Luke of blasphemy. Luke tells us that Jesus said (he informs us that these were the very words of Jesus) ‘Truly I tell you,’ he continued, ‘no prophet is accepted in his hometown. I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land. ….’

            It is Jesus who informs us that the famine lasted three and a half years, so in fact, you are wondering if Jesus (not Luke) was telling us that 1 Kings is inaccurate. If you are suggesting that these words did not come from Jesus, but instead that Luke put them on the lips of Jesus after he read Revelation, then you are accusing Luke of blasphemy.

            As for me, a careful reading of the (English translation of) 1 Kings makes it clear that there is no real contradiction; `Now it happened after many days that the word of the Lord came to Elijah *in the third year*, saying, ‘Go, show yourself to Ahab, and I will send rain on the face of the earth’. (1 Kings 18:1)

            So 1 Kings isn’t completely explicit about precisely when it happened; Jesus provided this information, which was faithfully conveyed to us by Luke (and also by James) – and I personally trust Jesus to give good information.

            It seems pretty clear to me that Revelation 6:6 is a reference to the Elijah story; the injunction not to spoil the oil and the wine looks very much like the attitude of Ahab when he was particularly concerned about his horses (when the people were dying as a result of the famine).

          • You disallow Luke from not having a tape-recorder level of accuracy after 65 years?
            But you don’t have that level of accuracy for 1957.

          • Christopher – you are the one who claims that Luke’s gospel was written as late as AD 95 and that he published it after Revelation, despite the injuction of Revelation 22:18 (and that he took some of the goodies from Revelation which you claim were specifically derived from Daniel and applied them to the Elijah story – all the time claiming that these were the very words of Jesus).

          • Three points where you are not fully accurate-

            Revelation 22.18 is speaking about the book of Revelation – nothing to be added to or taken from that.

            3.5 years was derived from Daniel yes – that is not a claim but obvious. The time period is connected with the Elijah powers of the witnesses, so that Elijah is already in Rev 11.

            Luke would not expect to have tape recorder level accuracy. If you had challenged him on this, do you think he would have said his account was word for word, or that he would have had any way of knowing that?

            As for my claim that Luke was written c95, that claim is based on several different intertextual relations, thus putting it above claims not so based.

          • “Luke would not expect to have tape recorder level accuracy. If you had challenged him on this, do you think he would have said his account was word for word, or that he would have had any way of knowing that?”

            A point I have made many times in comments here. And the reply always comes back

            ‘but if that isn’t accurate how do you know which other parts of scripture aren’t accurate?’

          • But we’re going much further than a minor interpretive addition here. Luke informs us that the information that the drought in the Elijah story lasted three-and-a-half years came from Jesus Christ himself (and hence the symbolism of three-and-a-half years for the time of trial, referring to Elijah). He wrote this, knowing full well the implications that would be drawn from it – that Christians throughout the ages would assume that this piece of information, that the drought lasted three-and-a-half years and that it was representative of the time of trial, came to the disciples from Jesus. If Luke were already aware of the book of Revelation, then he would understand that Christians throughout the ages would then consider it likely that this information fired John’s fertile mind when John received and conveyed his vision on Patmos.

            There seems to me a world of difference in our understanding between, on the one hand, taking the three-and-a-half years as the words of Jesus and, on the other hand, saying that this was an interpretation added by Luke after he had mugged up on Revelation.

            This ‘offer interpretation’ is all very well in its place – but we’re in great danger of sounding like the serpent here, ‘Did Jesus really say that?’ and then using the `offer interpretation’ card to make it mean something completely different. I’m sure that the Serpent argued in the same way when he beguiled Eve.

          • I don’t even reproduce myself with tape recorder accuracy, and nor does anyone else.

            We summarise, precis, reword.

            Each time we do so, the range of potential mis/understandings of what we say inevitably changes.

            To which we add that Jesus probably mostly did not speak in Greek.

            And that Luke did seek information from supplementary sources like Rev on other occasions too.

          • After the 3 years, God speaks to Elijah to consult Ahab; that is the next thing Elijah does; he asks Obadiah that he see Ahab ‘today’; he is not said to do anything before then travelling to Mount Carmel, which is where the rain comes.

            Your main mistake is to assume that everything in life happens in precise numbers of years or half years, or precise hours or half hours or groups of 3 hours. You surely don’t actually think that is the case?

            Short of saying 3 years and 150 days, then there are many periods of time that can be summarised either as 3 years or as 3.5. But that is not the cause of Rev, Jas or Luke. They are working from texts not first hand experience.

          • “A witness account has to have facticity, but it will also offer interpretation.”

            “We summarise, precis, reword.

            Each time we do so, the range of potential mis/understandings of what we say inevitably changes.

            To which we add that Jesus probably mostly did not speak in Greek.”

            Thank you Ian and Christopher. These are both helpful to hear you say. They are exactly what I have been saying on here every time I have commented on the question of scriptural authorship. They are exactly the things that are taught to undergraduates of biblical studies, as they were to me 45 years ago.

            We don’t need to invent fantastical stories of God causing cats to spill ink over manuscripts until the author got it right to ensure absolute accuracy. And we don’t need to ask the question “well if that isn’t accurate surely you can’t know if any of it is accurate?”

            And indeed Christopher Jesus didn’t speak in Greek. That is important to note.

      • Andrew – well, it’s beginning to look like straw man-ism. It was Christopher who brought up ‘tape recorder accuracy’. As for me, I expect the evangelists to convey, with accuracy, the meaning of what Jesus said, without putting their own interpretative spin on it.

        So if one evangelist were to write `and the Lord opened his mouth and said, ‘half a pound of tuppenny rice, half a pound of treacle, that’s the way the money goes, pop goes the weasel’ and another evangelist were to write `and the Lord opened his mouth and said, ‘113.5 grams of rice at 4.4p a kilogram, 113.5 grams of a sticky sweet substance made by Tate and Lyle, that is what happeneth to thine denarii, a small furry animal explodes’ I don’t honestly imagine that any reasonable person would think that there were inaccuracies or serious discrepancies between the two accounts.

        What is happening here, though, is that there seems to be a huge amount that hinges on whether or not Luke added an ‘interpretative’ element, whether this ‘interpretative’ element was added as a result of boning up on Revelation before he wrote his gospel.

        But I now understand things much more clearly: if some words of Jesus, taken naively as words of Jesus, are inconvenient for us, we can declare that the evangelist was ‘offering interpretation’. Also, the context of symbolism is very important. The symbolism of time, times and half a time is very important when John uses it in Revelation, because it clearly came from Daniel, but clearly Jesus was just making it up as he went along when he informed us that the famine in 1 Kings lasted three and a half years – nothing symbolic here.

        • Jock there is nothing straw man about this: all the four evangelists in the Canonical Gospels wrote interpretatively. They were writing for different audiences at different times. Just as newspapers aim for different audiences. There needs to be facticity. But there will also be interpretation. This is basic stuff.

          • Andrew – yes – clearly there is a little room for interpretation – especially if the evangelists wrote the words and phrases attributed to Jesus in a different language from the language that Jesus said them in. Yes – this is basic stuff.

            But can’t you see that in this example the discussion over what was actually pronounced by Jesus during his earthly ministry and what has been added as Luke’s ‘interpretation’ has absolutely huge consequences? It isn’t supposed to be like this. The evangelists were giving a faithful testimony to what Jesus actually said and did. That is also basic stuff.

          • How do we know that the evangelists were writing for different audiences? That is not basic stuff at all. Quite the contrary, it is highly contested. Why would they wish to limit their audiences rather than writing ‘for all Christians’?

            As for different times, the times were not all that different. Luke is the last and he writes in his preface as though his co evangelists were more or less contemporaries. Given that the first evangelist was one of the main coworkers of the last, that is not a surprising perspective.

          • In other words, I can think for myself. Which is 100% positive, and tends to be a characteristic of good thinkers (vide the originality on every page of Ian’s commentary). But pronouncing a vast undifferentiated mass of highly various comments ‘highly contested’ without producing actual arguments is (apart from the vast degree of generalisation) Molesworth proffering the reply ‘larfably easy’ but not writing down an answer.

          • However, the first stage is always to test if people can accurately reproduce what is being mooted. What cannot be accurately rendered cannot be contested.

          • Far from being ‘unique’, the idea that the gospels were written for all Christians has been ably defended by Richard Bauckham and collaborators; indeed, a more considered defence than has recently been given to the former assumption that each gospel was single-community-based, which Andrew in his generation will have been made to imbibe.

            So what Andrew calls unique is not. But even if it were, since when was being unique a deficit? Or wherein is it a deficit? (The bandwagon tendency is a deficit.) It can however be a sign of unmediated thought.

            In my experience, criticism of those who can think unmediated is too seldom accompanied by ability to understand or reproduce what they are saying, which is the prerequisite of any criticism positive or negative. What cannot be accurately rendered cannot be contested, nor agreed with.

        • What is inconvenient about it? Why would one not want to think it was 3.5 years? That is just a neutral number in which no-one could have an emotional investment. Least of all honest and unbiased people.

          I have said that what would really benefit Jock is to read some scholars who have studied the text informed by background understanding. To write ‘I expect the evangelists to…’ makes it sound as though the evangelists are at your beck and call, and the realities are under obligation to conform to your expectations. If they were under obligation to conform to anyone’s expectations (which they are not) it would be to the expectations of someone versed in the texts and their essential interpretative background, multi dimensional as it is.

  14. Jock,
    Revelation is not for the average Joe. It for anyone who has faith enough to believe that ‘he who hears the words of this prophecy and takes to heart what is written in it..’
    Too many of all IQs lack the simple faith to believe that Jesus’ Spirit will open their ears . Most balk at reading it because they are conditioned to only hear from preachers, theologians, books etc. Ian’s book encourages people to read Revelation with an ear to what the Spirit says. Many books on Revelation simply want to trap the reader into the author’s own world view.

    • Steve, surely Revelation is for everyone who has ears to hear. I think most of the big issues can be fairly readily grasped, certainly after a half dozen or so readings. Its picture is of a world belonging to the near future. It is a world with a compromised church, persecution, and false prophets. It is a world on which God will pour out judgements. Bliss awaits God’s people who persevere in faith. Eternal judgement awaits those who oppose God and his people.

      You’re right though, too many of us do not read in faith . And you’re right too many don’t read nowadays. I wonder if this latter feature is peculiar to the decadent west. I remember how miners in the past more or less taught themselves to read by reading the Bible. The thirst was keen.

      • Yep, I’m trying to draw a distinction between those who read maps who are interested in cartography and those who read maps to go somewhere. I’m not so interested in the differences of interpretation you and Ian draw, rather I’m looking to find from everyone something I can say ‘yes and amen’ to. As Jesus pointed out He is the ‘Something’ that is greater than Solomon. There is ‘something’ about Revelation that is extraordinary. This post asks the question ‘is the jubilee in the book of Revelation’. I’ve answered as best I can. The Jubilee is Jesus. It’s not spelt out because we are to draw from Jesus’, usually oblique questions, an answer that builds our faith in Him. “Who do you say that I AM?”
        There is a real, urgent issue at stake here though. Reading Rev. through Millennialist glasses, for instance, has paved the way for a revival of a political Christianity that endorses the sword as a means of bringing the Day of the Lord closer. I believe that if this view can be countered succesfully by bringing Jesus out of Revelation then it will be less likely to be used as a political tool to whip up a frenzy of Christian patriotism. There may be a new Nero revividus in the not too distant future. I don’t engage in debate if I can help it.

        • Steve

          I agree with what you assert but not what you deny. I agree absolutely we read Scripture to see Jesus and to follow him. The beatitudes in Revelation are encouragements to do just that.

          I’m actually not too worried about premil/post mil/ Amil readings. But to understand we want to aim to get the sense. In proverbs we read, it is the glory of God to conceal a matter and the glory of kings to search them out. I think God must have had this verse in mind when he commissioned Revelation. Revelation doesn’t encourage political militancy in Christians, rather the opposite; it tells them to be prepared to die and to die without resistance.

          Whoever has ears ought to hear these words.

          Anyone destined for captivity goes into captivity.

          Anyone destined to be slain by the sword shall be slain by the sword.

          Such is the faithful endurance of the holy ones.

          I need a little of your resistance to debating.

          • Well one only needs to read how Americans influenced by Revelation see in it a call to make America great again by bringing about an American theocracy. This is made possible by so called prophets spoon feeding their followers selective passages. This is why it is very important to get people to read it for themselves. Only they would be well advised to read the Bible first. But then how many people actually read the Bible without it being mediated through moderators? These moderators are no better than prereformation priests.

  15. Not everyone, all scholars, agree that 666 = Nero
    Dr Sam Storms, an amillennialist, not a futurist, marshals arguments, (including gematria in some detail) opposed to Nero being 666. Likewise, Beale, I think.
    Storms also sides with Bauckham so far as the legend of Nero’s return- a rise from the dead, and while “Nero constituted the most obvious and ready-at-hand embodiment of that antichristian power which opposes and persists in oppression and persecution of the church …and,,, John used Nero’s legend to paint his portrait of the beast… whether the number of 666 is to attributed to his name is yet to be determined…”
    Storms continues with arguments against Nero including the use of
    1 Historical view and use of Gemartria, Citing a well known example from a bit of graffiti found in the city of Pompeii which reads, “i love the girl whose number is 545”. Apparently the initials of her name were ph=500; mu=40;epsilon=5.

    2 Isopspehism (a new handle for Ian, perhaps?) which seeks to establish a connection between two different words or names by showing that their numerical value are the same. An example is given concerning Nero from historian Suetonius (Nero 39). It read, “a new calculation . Nero killed his own mother,” – The point is that the numerical value of the name “Nero” is the same as the phrase “killed his own mother.”

    3 Symbolic view-666 symbolism /parody
    Symbolic or figurative of some spiritual or theological reality.
    666 represents the archetype man who falls short in every respect.
    Triple sixes are merely a contrast with the divine sevens in Revelation and signify incompleteness and imperfection.
    777 is the number of deity and 666 falls short in every digit.
    Again, “three sixes are a parody of the divine trinity of three sevens, That is, though the beast attempts to mimic God, Christ and the prophetic Spirit of truth, he falls short of succeeding. ” (Beale , Revelation)

    This number does not identify the beast, but describes him. It refers to his character.

    From Kingdom Come, Sam Storms.
    While this is a scholar’s site, what is the ultimate purpose of Christian Biblical scholarship? Knowing the whole counsel of God? Knowing God? Or what?

    But my, how we love our categories.

    • In the recent online session on the End Times, Ian showed us how to use English gematria to convert our own name to a number. He told us that on another occasion, one of the participant’s name came out as 666! Now, to illustrate the point of gematria, try to work out what that name was.

      The point is that if you know the name, then it is easy to do the forward calculation. Going backwards from the number to a valid name is much harder. It is a way of indicating a name without revealing it to others explicitly.

      That 666 can be derived from one spelling of Caesar Nero in Hebrew letters – also from the transcription of the Greek for ‘beast’ into Hebrew letters – and the early variant 616 (present in a very early Greek manuscript and other, non-Greek translations) be derived from a different spelling of Caesar Nero does suggest strongly to me that there is something in this explanation.

      • Far, by far, too tortuous and derivative to carry any weight and reliable credibility , to me. ( See the comment by the historian cited by Sam Storms. More like a Christmas cracker lark, a party game to dine-out on) than scripture.
        Even then, it has been argued, coherently and cogently to me, that it paints a picture of the nature and character of anti- Christian opposition ( which has
        persisted from the time of Christ) from the known “legend” of Nero rather than the beast “is” Nero.

        • And David, (Wilson) if one participant’s name was given the calculated number 666, doesn’t that evidence the unreliablity, the fallacy of deducing a definitive conclusion that that person “is” “the” beast ?

          • Hardly, it was written in the context of a Roman empire which was routinely persecuting Christians and Jews. Again, the 616 alternative is the definitive proof – the scribes making the copies of the text knew exactly to whom John was referring but chose a slightly different spelling of his name, and the gematria value was calculated accordingly.

  16. Though the site, Chris links states it is English gemartria, Nero’s number there is 312.
    This seems to be something of a quagmire, with refences to Hebrew; Jewish; Latin gemartria and with some connections to the occult applications.

  17. I repost here the main part of a query from 20 Dec 2019, interestingly it didn’t get any reaction at the time and I would love to read an expert answer.

    Matt 1:8 “Jehoram the father of Uzziah” is shorthand for “Jehoram the father of Ahaziah, Ahaziah the father of Joash, Joash the father of Amaziah, Amaziah the father of Uzziah.” I don’t have a problem with St Matthew missing out a few – but I do have a problem with Matt 1:17, “…there were fourteen (generations) from David to the exile in Babylon …” which reads like an objective fact, whereas we know, and St Matthew knew, that it wasn’t so.

    It’s not so much that Matt 1:17, “…there were fourteen (generations) from David to the exile in Babylon …” is a contradiction. Rather – if when counting we are allowed to miss some out – it’s meaningless, at least to this little mind.

    • Yes but I warmed to Matthew’s editing when the kings in the genealogy added up to 15 and 5 of them seemed to be beyond redemption. Thus 1/3 could be identified as falling stars which feeds into Revelation’s 1/3 of the stars swept from heaven.
      I can only imagine St.Matthew was working from a genealogy that was inaccurate by modern standards which led in turn to St. John working it into the Apocalypse.
      Jesus is the 14th in the line from Babylon. His mother the 13th, which leads me to wonder if the genealogy 1 to 12 were the stars on her headdress? I’ve said this before but no one thinks it significant.

    • “Matthew has sorted the news into 3 groups of 14 generations: from Abraham to David; from David to Babylonian exile; and from exile to Christ: 42 generations!
      Since we know there were more than 42 generations from between Abraham and Jesus – why does Matthew abbreviate them?…What does it mean?…
      One attractive explanation is that to Matthew’s Jewish readers the number 14 had a special significance…
      To a Hebrew who loved numbers, 14 might well seem significant: it was King David’s number! In Hebrew his name was written D_V_D using consonants dalet (Dalet), vav (V), dalet (D). D is the fourth letter, V the sixth, therefore 4+6+4=14.
      Matthhew goes out of his way to make the point that the number of generations is significant. In case we miss it, in v17 he tells us three times. Notice the 14. generations.
      So did his first readers here, “David, David, David” playing in the background to these verses?..
      Whether or not this link is the right way to understand Matthew’s threefold division of Jesus’ genealogy, it is undoubtedly part of his message. It is the first thing he says about Jesus. He is “the Son of David.”…
      And the genealogy as a whole focuses on his Royal identity as son of David….
      shows that.. God is keeping his everlasting covenant with, King David..
      He is the promised King.
      God’s long_awaited King has come; his kingdom is about to be established as that of David’s legal heir…
      Perhaps this is an explanation why, in Matthews Gospel, Jesus’ genealogy moves forward from Abraham to Jesus rather than backwards from Jesus as in Luke…
      Matthew’s message is this; from the very beginning God knew exactly where he was going…directing history towards this moment…
      God has kept his promise to bless the nation’s through Abraham’s seed.”
      From, “The Dawn of Redeeming Grace” by Sinclair B. Ferguson

        • Amen. Thanks for the insight Geoff.
          Over the summer I worked on a picture called the Gates of Paradise. If Ian doesn’t mind I’d like to post a link to it here. In the image I’ve woven in the genealogy of Jesus.

      • To be clear, according to Herman C. Waetjen, “The Genealogy as the Key to Gospel of Matthew,” JBL (1976), 210n29, this insight was probably first offered by A.F. Gefrörer and rearticulated by G.I. Box in ZNW (1905), and Jeremias in Jerusalem at the Time of Jesus (1969).

        I would also briefly add to this very interesting post & comments that 3*14 = 42, since that hasn’t been noted yet.
        I’m not sure what I think about that since 42 is a penultimate (rather than ultimate) number, but it seems worth pondering!

    • Jamie

      While not fully understanding it I take the genealogy to work according to conventions of the time and so gasps would not concern C1 readers. I take it too that Matthew would know the gaps were obvious to C1 believers.

  18. OK – for those who think that an in-depth understanding of numerology, gematria, history of the Roman Empire (particularly Nero) are important for understanding anything important about the book of Revelation, I refer to the commentary by James Ramsay (published by Banner of Truth) and I’ll give a precis of some part of his Lecture 1.

    `The Sabbath had been spent in preaching in a settlement of Choctaw Indians on the upper waters of the Red river, not far from the Fort. …..They turned to its closing chapters and commented in their own way on the splendid imagery of those chapters, the city of the New Jerusalem descending from heaven ….. To these untutored children of the forest, was all this unintelligible jargon? … Far from it; their simple minds, though they had never heard anything about the laws of symbolic interpretations and though many of the terms were strangely mysterious, seemed promptly to catch the grand leading ideas intended to be conveyed by the Spirit of God; and their simple remarks, and the vivacity, energy and joyousness of their tones showed very clearly how truly their faith and hope were feeding upon these pictures of heavenly glory and purity and bliss, awaiting them in the presence and communion of their glorified Redeemer and His perfected church. We may doubt if any learned commentator ever entered more truly into the spirit and real meaning of this splendid imagery than did they.’

    • Thanks Jock, it would be good to be able to read a lot more anecdotes like that alongside scripture. Rather that than the usual bone dry theology. It would make a great devotional book.

      • Apparently, according to the Guardian, what sparrows tweet is “six, six, six, three. Six, six, three. Three. SIX. ETC.

        • Steve – yeah – this six six six three is getting dangerously close to time times and half a time …… Perhaps they’re trying to tell us something!

  19. Christopher, Andrew – all these theories have some merit if we use them appropriately, but cause problems if we drive them to what we think are their logical conclusions.

    In the context of what we’re talking about here – could we try a `what if’? Which is, `What if Jesus really did say the words of Luke 4:25? What if the ‘three and a half’ is not simply Luke offering an interpretation, but actually the words of Jesus? What if Jesus wasn’t simply indicating a period of something slightly longer than 3 years, but if the three-and-a-half was quite deliberate? What if John heard this – and it was one of the sayings of Jesus that shaped his thinking so that it was used by the angel when delivering the vision on Patmos?

    If you were convinced of this, then would it change your understanding of the Book of Revelation in some way? Or not?

  20. Once again, the comments here have turned into an internal debate between I think five people, mostly nothing to do with the actual argument in the post.

    This is not what I intended the comment function to be for.


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