Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Realized Eschatology; Lord's Day; Throne of Satan

I have three items for my write-up today on G.K. Beale's The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text.

1.  In my last two posts about this book, I have referred to Beale's view that there is an already-but-not-yet dimension to the Kingdom of God in the Book of Revelation----that, in a sense, the end-times were inaugurated at Jesus' first coming.  That could rebut the notion that the author of Revelation expected the imminent end of the world in his day, which did not materialize.  In my latest reading, Beale actually supports his claim about realized eschatology in the Book of Revelation.  He does so in a variety of places, but I'll use as my starting-point what he says on page 182, in which he is discussing Revelation 1:

"Indeed, what follows shows that the beginning of fulfillment and not final fulfillment is the focus.  The reference to the imminent eschatological period (v 3b), the fact of Christ's present kingship over the world's kings (v 5), the initial form of the saints' kingdom (vv 6, 9), and the following 'Son of Man' reference (1:7) and vision (vv 13, 15), also indicating initial fulfillment of Daniel 7, point strongly to this focus and to the presence of a Danielic frame of reference...Similarly, the allusion to 'seven lampstands,' from Zechariah 4, in vv 12, 20 and the reference to Isa. 49:2 and 11:4 (the sword in the Messiah's mouth) in v 16 also indicate that the OT prophecies in those texts have begun to be fulfilled.  In fact, only one verse in all of Revelation 1 clearly includes reference to Christ's last advent.  And even that verse, 1:7, refers to the progressive nature of the fulfillment of Dan. 7:13 throughout the age, which will be culminated by Christ's final coming..."

Elsewhere in his commentary, Beale elaborates or provides other details to substantiate this thesis.  On page 198, Beale affirms that "Christ's 'coming' in 1:7 and elsewhere in the Apocalypse is understood better as a process occurring throughout history", and that "the so-called 'second coming' is actually a final coming concluding the whole process of comings."  To support this claim, Beale says that in Daniel 7:13 the Son of Man's coming relates to "his reception of authority to exercise end-time kingship over the world", and that pertains to more than the future Second Coming of Christ.  Beale also argues (if I'm understanding him correctly) that there is a sense in Revelation in which the saints rule right now, amidst their suffering, but I am not clear as to what Beale means by this.  In addition, on page 72, Beale says that, in the Book of Revelation, certain prophecies in the Hebrew Bible are presented as already being fulfilled, such as a new temple, which Beale equates with "the lampstands in 1:12-13, 20, [and] the exalted saints in the heavenly temple in 6:9-11..."

Does Beale have a point?  Perhaps, but I wonder: Maybe the Book of Revelation depicts the end as already beginning because its author had a sense that the final end truly was near, and that's why he was stressing that things have already begun to be fulfilled.  I'm not convinced that the author of Revelation believed that the end was beginning in his day, and that end would last for thousands of years before the Second Coming of Christ.  

2.  Revelation 1:10 says that John was in the Spirit on the Lord's day.  Beale interprets this to mean that John was "in an attitude of worship on 'Sunday' (cf. Barnabas 15:9)" (page 203).  Beale disagrees with Samuele Bacchiocchi's argument that the Lord's day is the eschatological Day of the Lord for three reasons.  First, a Greek word in Revelation 1:10, kuriakos (or actually kuriake, which modifies "day"), "is never used of the 'Day of the Lord' in the LXX, NT, or early fathers."  Second, the phrase is regarded as Sunday "from the second half of the second century on..."  And third, "John understands the OT idea of the Day of the Lord as pertaining to the restricted period of the final judgment, exclusive of the preparatory judgments leading up to it (cf. Rev, 6:17; 16:14)."

Regarding the third reason, I wonder if that conflicts with Beale's dismissal of seeing the Book of Revelation as an account of how the future will literally and chronologically unfold, as Beale instead applies Revelation to the time between Christ's first and second comings.

I'm not sure how to evaluate Beale's arguments, here.  How can one identify what the Lord's day is, when it only appears in the New Testament in Revelation 1:10?  Moreover, as Seventh-Day Adventists note, Jesus in Mark 2:28 says that the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.  And God in Isaiah 58:13 says that the Sabbath is his holy day.  Wouldn't these things be relevant in attempting to decipher what the Lord's Day is?

Regarding the church fathers, I don't want to dismiss them.  But does the fact that they considered the Lord's Day to be Sunday mean that it was?

3.  Revelation 2:13 says that the church at Pergamum lives where the throne of Satan is.  What's this mean?  On page 246, Beale offers his interpretation:

"'The throne of Satan' in Pergamum is a way of referring to that city as a center of Roman government and pagan religion in the Asia Minor region.  It was the first city in Asia Minor to build a temple to a Roman ruler (Augustus) and the capital of the whole area for the cult of the emperor.  The city proudly referred to itself as the 'temple warden'...of a temple dedicated to Caesar worship."

Beale argues that Jesus in the letters to the seven churches wanted for Christians to be lights in such an environment, to testify that Jesus and not Caesar was Lord.  According to Beale, this Jesus did not buy what may have been a rationalization among Christians who participated in pagan rites, that "it was only an empty gesture that fulfilled patriotic or social obligations and was legitimate as long as Christians did not really believe in the deities being worshiped" (page 249).

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