The Messianic Judgments, 6:1-16:21
3. The battle with the beasts, 11:19-15:4
i] God's people are secureSynopsis
To introduce the next set of visions John presents us with a scene change. The doors of the temple open wide and we see, within the sanctuary of the temple, the ark of the covenant, and from outside we hear the sounds of judgment: lightning, rumbling thunder, earthquake and hail.
The kingdom of God is at hand, the Great Day of the Lord, the day of judgment, is upon us, yet fear not, God's people are safe and secure.
i] Context: See 6:1-8. The function of the last verse in chapter 11 is long disputed. Many commentators see it concluding the judgments of the seven trumpets, others as transitional. It is likely that this verse introduces The Battle of the Beasts, 11:19-15:4; a new set of visions dealing with the war between God, the Lamb and his associates (the Christian community), and the red dragon (Satan), the beast from the sea (corrupted political power = the Great City, Babylon, the secular city, antiChrist) and his philosophical friend the beast from the land (perverted ideology = the false prophet), and their associates (those with the mark of the beast, those who worship the beast). This section, which opens in 11:19, God's people are secure, and closes in 15:1-4, The saints are triumphant, reveals that in this war God's people are secure and triumphant.
The war presents as a series of visions. They are often divided up into seven: "seven signs (portents)", Smalley, "eschatological events", Aune, "oracles", Kiddle. Smalley actually argues that these "seven signs" make up the third Woe. This is certainly possible, but it seems more likely that the sounding of the seventh trumpet is the third Woe.
ii] The woman and the dragon, 12:1-6
iii] War in heaven, 12:7-17
iv] The evil of political power, 13:1-10
v] The evil of false ideologies, 13:11-18
vi] The triumph of the redeemed and the Lamb, 14:1-5
vii] The church militant, 14:6-13
viii] Life and judgment, 14:14-20
ix] The saints are triumphant, 15:1-4
Some commentators see these visions in similar terms to the seven judgments, but they are more like the interludes which focus on the Christian community interacting with the world prior to the day of judgment: "the people of God in their conflict with the forces opposed to God", Bauckham; "an eschatological combat between the powers of God and of Satan", Smalley. As Osborne puts it, "this is the final of the three interludes, and like them, it details the church's involvement in these end-time events", contra Mounce, Beale, ... The focus is initially on the dragon, the beast and the false prophet (the second beast), who are in conflict with God's people, 12:1-13:18. The focus then moves to the saints / believers: their vindication, 14:1-5, their witness as the church militant, 14:6-13, their ultimate salvation, 14:14-20 (with loss for the godless, v17-20), and triumph, 15:1-4.
Smalley suggests the following structure for the Seven Signs of the End:
i] The woman, 12:1-2;
ii] the huge dragon, 12:3-6;
iii] The war in heaven, 12:7-9;
A song of praise in heaven, 12:10-12;
iv] The war on earth, 12:13-18;
v] The beast from the sea, 13:1-10;
vi] The beast from the earth, 13:11-18;
A vision of the redeemed, 14:1-5;
vii] The angelic judgement, 14:6-20;
Interlude - A new Exodus, 15:1-8.
Numerous structures for John's cosmic story have been proposed over the years and the above is just one of many, but, irrespective of the contextual arrangement of his visions, John's point is simple enough; The Christian community lives in a world dominated by the secular city, "the Great City", the whore of Babylon, and must struggle against the forces of evil driving the social, political and economic framework of a world falling apart. As we saw in the previous interlude, the Christian community progresses this struggle (a struggle not without casualties) as a prophetic people, witnessing the gospel. As we saw in the letters to the churches, there will be those members who will succumb to the glories of the secular city. Yet in the end, as revealed in the seven judgments, the powers of darkness will ultimately be brought low in the Great Day of the Lord. So, we are again reminded that the kingdom of God is at hand, repent, believe and persevere.
ii] Background: See 1:1-8.
iii] Structure: God's people are secure:
A vision of heaven:
The ark in the temple, v19a;
The sounds of judgment, v19b.
The opening verse of this section, as with the concluding verses, 15:1-4, reveals that in the war with the secular city, the Christian community remains secure and triumphant. God's covenant is still in the Ark secure in the temple (probably the Holy of Holies is in mind); the covenant, God's agreement with his people, remains in force. The Ark may have been lost at the time of the Babylonian attack upon Jerusalem, but the real thing remains in heaven, in God's sanctuary. God's agreement stands, his people are secure, blessing is assured. So, believersdwell secure as the war rages and the sounds of the day of judgment draws near.
The Ark of the Covenant: The Ark, a box built to specifications revealed by God, originally contained the staff of Aaron, a bowl of manna, and the two tablets documenting the covenant. On the return of the Ark, following its capture by the Philistines, only the two tablets remained in it. The Ark, along with the covenant tablets, was lost in the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians in 587BC. The box / Ark was an important element in the Holy of Holies, but it was the documentary contents which were of supreme importance. Covenant agreements are ratified with two copies, so the ark contained the people's copy and God's copy. Yet, although the two tablets were lost, there remains a spiritual equivalent preserved in heaven.
The foundational covenant / agreement was made between God and Abraham; it promised a people, land and blessing. The realization of the promises rested on faith, namely, the conviction that God would uphold his agreement. The covenant was ratified / renewed on a number of occasions through to its renewal at Mount Sinai with Moses and the children of Israel. On this occasion it was documented with the two copies, both of which were stored in the Ark. The preamble frames the agreement for God's elect community bound under his care; "I am the Lord your God who brought out out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery" The decalogue details the covenantal obligations which carry with them blessings and cursings. The function of the decalogue is long disputed, but given Paul's exegesis of Jesus' teachings on the law, its prime function is to reinforce the basis of the covenant, namely the faith of Abraham, ie., the law serves to expose sin and thus drive the sinner to rest on God's grace / mercy through faith for incorporation into God's elect community / the faithful remnant. Only as a secondary function does the decalogue guide the life of the faithful. The final ratification / renewal of the covenant by Christ (the term "new" should not be taken to mean different) is made possible by his "completion / fulfillment" of the the law, both in his life and his teachings. Thus, by resting in faith on the faithfulness of Christ the Christian community is assured of the blessings of the covenant, despite the rage of the Great Harlot, Babylon.
Text - 11:19a
God's people are secure, v19: i] The ark in the temple, v19a. There was a tradition that the Ark was taken from the temple and hidden before the Babylonian invasion and that it would remain hidden "until God gathers his people together again", 2Macc.2:7. The presence of the Ark in the heavenly sanctuary may indicate that the time of restoration is now. Yet, it seems more likely that the heavenly Ark is a reminder of the faithfulness of God in fulfilling his covenant promises, so Mounce, .... A spiritual equivalent of the covenant (God's agreement with his people) exists in heaven such that the promises still apply for the salvation of the faithful, despite the rage of the Great City, Babylon.
kai "then" - and. Transitional. Indicating a step in the narrative.
oJ "[God's temple in heaven]" - [the temple of god] the = which is [in heaven was opened]. The article serves as an adjectivizer turning the prepositional phrase "in heaven" into an attributive relative clause limiting "temple". "which is in heaven."
thV diaqhkhV (h) gen. "[the ark] of [his] covenant" - [and the ark] of the covenant [of him was seen in the temple of him]. The genitive is adjectival, attributive, idiomatic / content, limiting "ark"; "the ark which contains his covenant was seen within his temple." The NIV has autou, "his", modifying "the covenant" (the agreement between God and his people), although it could modify "the ark of the covenant" = "his ark of the covenant." Smalley argues for the NIV translation. Given that the Ark is only the box in which the covenant documents / tablets reside, then "his covenant with his people" is the more likely sense. So, the purpose of the vision is to establish that the divine promises detailed in the agreement between God and the children of Abraham (by faith!), confirmed and ratified / renewed by Christ, still stand, and as such, the eternal security of the Christian community is guaranteed.
ii] The sounds of judgment, v19b. There is no agreement on the significance of the storm theophany / cosmic portents. Koester suggests three possibilities: a sign of God's power (4:5), coming judgment (8:7), or divine wrath (6:12, 8:5). Osborne thinks they herald the presence of the divine, an allusion to God's presence on Mount Sinai. Beale links it with the fall of Jericho and of the entry of God's people into the promised land. Smalley argues, against Beale, that the portents are more about judgment than salvation. Aune regards the portents as a theophany, heralding the presence of God, so also Reddish. Blount opts for a theophany which "climaxes the theme of judgment, and Mounce argues that the cosmic portents are symbolic of "divine anger." Judgment does seem to be the best interpretation of these cosmic portents. Judgment rages, but God's people are secure.
astrapai (h) [and there came] flashes of lightning - [and there were] lightning, [and voices, and thunders, and earthquake and great hail]. Nominative subject of the verb "there were." "I saw lightning and heard roars of thunder. The earth trembled and huge hailstones fell to the ground", CEV.