Saturday, July 26, 2014

The Key of David

And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: "The words of the holy one, the true one, who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, who shuts and no one opens. I know your works. Behold, I have set before you an open door, which no one is able to shut." (Revelation 3:7-8a, ESV)
When the Assyrians were threatening the city of Jerusalem about 700 B.C., King Hezekiah, a descendant of David, entrusted the master key of the king's treasuries and armories to Shebna, who used his access for personal gain. Hezekaih stripped Shebna of his authority, and gave it to a better man, Eliakim (Isaiah 22:22). During the Assyrian threat, Eliakim was reliable, opening doors for those who needed it and closing them against those who would plunder the king's resources. However, he apparently could not support the weight of his responsibility after that threat ended (Isaiah 22:25).

Revelation uses that key to symbolize Christ's power to open the treasures of his heavenly kingdom to whom he wishes and close them to whom he wishes. In Revelation, Christ has not delegated that key to anyone who may prove to be unfaithful or unreliable. Instead, the Holy One has the key of David. The True One possesses the key that opens and closes the gates to the city and treasuries of the King. Those Jews who had denied the Messiah/Christ, could not claim entrance into the kingdom merely because they were Jews. The Messiah who held the key of David had closed the door to them, and no one could open it for them. On the other hand, those who had confessed Jesus as the Messiah would find that he had opened the door for them, and no one else could close it.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

The Rod of Iron

The one who conquers and who keeps my works until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron, as when earthen pots are broken in pieces, even as I myself have received authority from my Father. (Revelation 2:26-27 ESV)
She gave birth to a male child, one who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron, but her child was caught up to God and to his throne, (Revelation 12:5 ESV)
"From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty." (Revelation 19:15 ESV)
These verses allude to Psalm 2:7-9. In the second Psalm, the Messiah is given the nations as a heritage, and he will break them to pieces because they plot against him. The Psalm says, "I will tell of the decree: The LORD said to me, 'You are my Son; today I have begotten you. Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession. You shall break them with a rod of iron and dash them in pieces like a potter's vessel.'" What is of special interest in Revelation (like the LXX) is that the verb "to break" in verse nine is translated as "to shepherd" (ποιμαίνω). The symbol of the Messiah's rod stands for his authority and power to subdue the nations in order to protect and defend God's people.

Revelation uses the symbol similarly; the rod of iron is a symbol of Christ's power and authority. As a symbol, it reveals that Christ uses his power and authority to protect the saints from their enemies and to subdue the unbelieving nations (cf. Psalm 110:5-6). Furthermore, he will share that authority with those who conquer and keep his works to the end.

Monday, July 7, 2014

The Sword of My Mouth

Therefore repent. If not, I will come to you soon and war against them with the sword of my mouth.
-- Revelation 2:16 ESV; see also 1:16 and 19:11-16

Many symbols which reveal a spiritual truth in Revelation come from the sphere of a kingdom. One of those symbols is "the sword of my mouth." The picture involves a play on words. In OT Hebrew, people were slain with the "edge of the sword" which was literally the "mouth (pěh) of the sword (ḥereb)."  Isaiah made a play on these words when he wrote, "He made my mouth (pěh) like a sharp sword (ḥereb)" (Isaiah 49:2). Here, John accomplishes the same thing by changing the construction from "mouth of the sword" to "sword of the mouth." The "sword of my mouth" is a symbol for the words Jesus speaks. The words of Jesus are compared to a sword.

By comparing the words of Jesus to a sword, John reveals a spiritual truth about his words. His words are powerful. They can judge and give the sentence of death (John 12:48). In Revelation 2:16, the words spoken by Jesus will effectively bring judgment and death on those who follow Balaam and the Nicolaitans. We are not to think this picture refers to a bloody sword fight, but to the powerful sentence of a judge.  Likewise, in Revelation 19, Jesus does not engage the unbelieving nations in a bloody battle with a literal sword, but his word of judgment consigns them to eternal death (cf. 2 Thessalonians 2:8). His words are as powerful as a sword.

Lowery summarizes the comparison and its purpose with these words: "Symbols are commonly used to communicate abstract ideas in concrete ways. Revelation's symbols represent spiritual realities; thus the double-edged sword in Jesus' mouth (Rev. 1:16) represents power and truth, not an actual sword in his mouth."[1]

[1] Lowery, R., 2006. Revelation’s rhapsody: listening to the lyrics of the lamb : how to read the book of Revelation, Joplin, MO: College Press Pub. Co., p. 215.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Symbols Reveal Rather than Conceal

John does not use symbols as a secret code to conceal anything. Rather, he uses symbols for common things, people, or experiences to reveal spiritual truths which are easily missed or forgotten. For example, he calls the churches to which he is writing "a kingdom" and "priests" (Revelation 1:6). John uses this symbol borrowed from the Old Testament to reveal the glorious nature of the church. In an age when the churches were being persecuted and oppressed, it would be easy to forget the glory of the church.

Later, John describes Jesus as the  "Lion of the tribe of Judah, the root of David" and then as "a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain" (Revelation 5:5-6). He uses these symbols to emphasize the glorious position and ministry of their crucified Lord.

In the examples just cited, the symbols are drawn from two spheres: the kingdom and the temple. In fact, symbols relating to the kingdom and the temple recur so often that they form motifs or themes that will be considered in more detail in following posts.