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This Sunday School Study Guide is provided free of cost for personal study and as an aid for Sunday School teachers.  It contains copyright material and may not be reproduced in any form for sale, without permission from the copyright holders.  


Bailey Sadler Class

SUNDAY SCHOOL LESSON STUDY GUIDE – Fall 2017

 

Study Theme:  The Dark Side

What This Lesson Is About:

Week of:

Lesson Title:

This week starts a new study theme: “The Dark Side” in which we will look at passages that deal with Satan, demons, and spiritual practices to avoid, in our next six lessons. We will also discover truths to help us when we engage in spiritual warfare.  So don’t miss a single session with your study group.  And may God bless you and each member of your group as you all prepare yourselves to stand against Satan and the Dark Side!

X

Sept. 03

Satan

 

Sept. 10

Demons

 

Sept. 17

The Paranormal

 

Sept. 24

Fear Not!

 

Oct. 01

Battle Armor

 

Oct. 08

Battle Plan

 INTRODUCING THE NEW STUDY THEME: THE DARK SIDE

WHY THIS STUDY IS IMPORTANT:

Satan employs two strategies. He wants us to either ignore him—even deny his existence—or he want us to be immobilized because we fear him. Satan is real and he is powerful. The presence of evil throughout our world attests to that. But we should not lose sight of an even greater truth: Jesus is greater—and He is victorious! As followers of Christ, it is essential that we know who battles against us, but we should also rest in the truth that Satan has been defeated by Christ. There is a dark side, but the light of Christ has overcome the darkness.

This study will remind us that God’s Word is powerful and helps us stand against evil, temptation, and the attacks of the evil one. We’ll see that to overcome evil in our lives we must die to self and follow Christ completely. Moreover, we must trust Christ to work on our behalf, knowing that He empowers us to live boldly—even in the face of opposition.

Since we need to know what we’re up against before we consider how we fight it, sessions 1-3 will focus on who and what comes against us. After three weeks of focusing on the enemy, we will explore the truth that we are victorious in Christ. Finally, sessions 5 and 6 will show us what we have in Christ to combat the enemy, followed by some strategies to employ in the battle.

LIFE IMPACT:

Satan fights against us, but we can stand in Christ.

FOCAL PASSAGE:

Revelation 12:7-12

LESSON OUTLINE:

I.     II.

III.

Satan Seeks To Deceive Us (Rev. 12:7-9)

Satan Seeks to Accuse Us  (Rev. 12:10)

Satan Is Relentless—But He Is Defeated (Rev. 12:11-12)

THE SETTING:

The Book of Revelation emerges out of a time of conflict. The early Christian community who followed Jesus were faithful, but aging. They had faithfully proclaimed Jesus to the world while frequently undergoing great trials and persecution. New believers experienced the radical life transformation of the gospel and committed themselves to following their Savior no matter the cost. But cost them it did.

During the period in which the Book of Revelation was written (somewhere between AD 90-95), Christians suffered under a horrific Roman emperor named Domitian. He ruled from AD 81-96 and thought of himself as a god, or at least godlike. He officially had himself named “God the Lord.” He commanded that others identify him “Lord of the earth,” or some other divine title. It is no wonder that Christians who professed Jesus as Lord did not prostrate themselves before Domitian. Jesus was their Lord; Domitian was not. Because they embraced Christ and refused this false god, they experienced persecution.

From external appearances, it looked as though Rome’s megalomaniac emperor would snuff out the life of the church; Domitian would win, and Jesus and His church would lose. But appearances can be deceiving. The Book of Revelation testifies that despite all testimony to the contrary, God is in control, Jesus is coming again, and Jesus’ defeat of evil is without question.

The apostle John wrote this letter from the island of Patmos, a 13-square mile jumble of fertile volcanic rock just off the western coast of modern-day Turkey. He saw Jesus there and received a word of hope and encouragement that he passed on to the church.

SOURCE: Advanced Bible Study; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; One LifeWay Plaza, Nashville, TN.

INTRODUCTION:

Most people are interested in the future and, based on bestselling books, the end of the world. Hal Lindsay’s book The Late, Great Planet Earth (1970) was a huge bestseller and even had a feature-length film based on it (1979). Lindsay’s book, despite some fanciful interpretations and predictions, has sold roughly twenty million copies since its release and spurred an enormous “future end-times” focus in churches and in culture. In the 1990s and early 2000s, Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins released the “Left Behind” series of twelve books focusing on the same theme—the future and the end of the world. It, too, sold millions of copies worldwide and was accompanied by a series of films. Despite their flaws, these books captured people’s interest in the future and gave some a reason to hope.

We all want to know what will happen in the end. Christians share this concern because the Scriptures reveal the true story of the whole world, including the future. The Bible tells us what has happened, what is happening now, and what will happen in the future. It doesn’t always give us all the details we would like, but it does show us the victory of God in Jesus Christ, the defeat of evil, and the renewal of all things. This three-step pattern is the heartbeat of the Christian’s future hope. And that hope means that evil will not win the day. The Book of Revelation tells us that God defeats Satan through His Son, Jesus. If we look for what will happen in the end, we will hear the Scriptures testify to triumph in Jesus and the renewal of the world. This is the great story that Revelation tells.

SOURCE: Advanced Bible Study; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; One LifeWay Plaza, Nashville, TN.

I.

Satan Seeks To Deceive Us (Rev. 12:7-9)

7 Then war broke out in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon. The dragon and his angels also fought, 8 but he could not prevail, and there was no place for them in heaven any longer. 9 So the great dragon was thrown out — the ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the one who deceives the whole world. He was thrown to earth, and his angels with him.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  1.   When you think of evil, what picture comes to your mind and how would you describe it?

  2.   What is the setting for this week’s study? (See “Setting” above.)

  3.   How would you explain the suffering and faith of believers at the time when John wrote the Book of Revelation? (see “Setting,” on pg. 1, “During the period in  .  .  .  )

  4.   What is Michael and what do you know about him (v.7)? (see article entitled “MICHAEL In Jewish History” and Digging Deeper; also Adv. comm., pg. 4, “In the Bible, angels are  .  .  .  )

  5.   Who is Satan and what do you know about him (v. 9)? (see Digging Deeper: “Devil, Satan, , Evil, Demonic”  and Adv. comm., pg. 4, “Satan is “a liar  .  .  .  and “Who is Satan and why  .  .  .  )

  6.   What makes Satan the a real mortal enemy of God’s people and why did war break out in heaven? (see Adv. comm., pg. 4, “What is the battle about, and why did they fight?“ )

  7.   What constituted the “war” between Michael and he angels and the dragon (vv. 7-9)? (see Adv. comm., pg. 4, “So, in John’s retelling  .  .  .   and “By bringing forward  .  .  .  )

  8.   How did John see things in the world and the responsibility given to believers? (see Adv. comm., pg. 4, “Sometimes Christians put on  .  .  .  )

  9.   How would you describe the encouragement John’s message of Christ’s victory must have been to those persecuted believers? (see Adv. comm., pg. 3, “John’s message of Christ’s  .  .  .  )

10.   What do these verses add to the discussion of Satan’s deceptive power: Genesis 3:1-6,13; John 8:44; 2 Corinthians 11:3?

11.   Based on these three verses, what names are given to dragon and what is the significance of each? (see Digging Deeper.)

12.   How would you explain how Satan lives up to being the one who deceives? (see Adv. comm., pg. 5, “The term for “the one who deceives  .  .  .  )

13.   What are some way believers can avoid Satan’s deceptions and must be on constant guard? 

14.   What does it mean to you and your relationship with the Lord that in the end He has defeated the ancient serpent? Explain!

15.   How confident do you feel in your fight with the ancient serpent?  Are you confident enough to fight by spread His Word?  Why, or why not?

 

Lasting Lessons in Rev. 12:7-9:

1. We are in a fierce spiritual battle—suffering is to be expected and prepared for.

2. The unseen realm with angels and demons is real.

3. God has already won the victory over Satan and his angels; therefore, we can fight with confidence.

4. Our enemy seeks to destroy us through deception—believing God’s truth is crucial to victory.

 

II.

Satan Seeks to Accuse Us  (Rev. 12:10)

10 Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say, “The salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have now come, because the accuser of our brothers and sisters, who accuses them before our God day and night, has been thrown down.

  1.   How is Satan describe in this verse? 

  2.   What image do you get from this description of Satan?

  3.   How do you think Satan’s role is connected to his name? (see Adv, comm., pg. 5, “The term Satan  .  .  .  )

  4.   Why do you think this weapon is so effective against God’s people? (see Adv. comm., pg. 5, Satan and the accuser  .  .  .   )

  5.   What does it mean to you that “the kingdom of our God” has come with the defeat of devil? (see Adv. comm., pg. 5, “The defeat of the devil  .  .  .  )

  6.   How would you describe the real image in verse 10? (see Adv. comm., pg. 5, The image in  .  .  .  )

  7.   If Satan has no real power, why do you think he is so effective in deceiving/accusing people of injustice, impotence, or some other inadequacy?

  8.   Why do you think people continue to fall for Satan’s deceptive ways?

  9.   What are some of the lies Satan uses to keep God’s people from doing God’s Will?

10.   What are some things a believer can do to protect him/herself from Satan’s deception?

 

Lasting Lessons in Rev. 12:10:

1. Satan is real, as are the demonic forces that wage against Christ and His church. However, these evil forces are not equal to either God the Father or His Son, Jesus Christ. Rather, the Lord is matchless and powerful, tossing down would-be rivals with complete authority.

2. Satan is a liar and a deceiver. We would do well to drown out his lying words by attending to the voice of God, especially in Scripture.

 

III.

Satan Is Relentless—But He Is Defeated (Rev. 12:11-12)

11 They conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; for they did not love their lives to the point of death. 12Therefore rejoice, you heavens, and you who dwell in them! Woe to the earth and the sea, because the devil has come down to you with great fury, because he knows his time is short.”

  1.   What do you think makes Satan relentless in his search for those he can destroy?

  2.   Based on verse 11, how has Satan been conquered?

  3.   What does it mean that “they conquered him by the blood of the Lamb”? (see Adv. comm., pg. 6, Their victory over Satan is found  .  .  .  ;” also see article entitled: “The Lamb in Revelation” in Additional Background Reading.)

  4.   What does “the word of their testimony” mean? (see Adv. comm., pg. 6, The victory of the  .  .  .  )

  5.   How can believers overcome Satan with their testimony? (see Adv. comm., pg. 6, “They faithfully witness  .  .  .  )

  6.   What does it mean that “they did not love their lives to the point of death”? (see Adv. comm., pg. 6, “As Stephen Smalley says of  .  .  .  )

  7.   Why do you think verse 12a is a call for rejoicing in heaven by those living in them? (see Adv. comm., pg. 6, “This affirmation of the martyrs  .  .  .  )

  8.   Why a warning to the earth and sea to be wary of what (v. 12b)?

  9.   Based on the latter part of verse 12, how serious do you think this warn really is?  And why? 

10.   Do you think this warning applies to us today?  If so, why? 

11.   What are some examples of Satan working in our world today to destroy mankind?

12.   Do you see a danger in ignoring John’s warning because we know that Jesus has been victorious over Satan?  If so, what is it?

13.   What are some ways believers can overcome evil and stand against Satan?

14.   Do you think most believers realize Satan is real and bent on our destruction?  Why, or why not?

 

Lasting Lessons in Rev. 12:11-12:

1. Satan is neither omniscient nor omnipresent. He is not the evil counterpart to God; he is a limited being who has been defeated and will be completely defeated in the future.

2. Those who call upon the name of the Lord Jesus and trust Him, even in the face of threat, have hope that they will live through catastrophe, even if it costs them everything. The life God provides may not mean prosperity while on earth, but it will mean eternal life with Him.

3. We overcome evil in our lives as we die to self and follow Christ completely.

4. We experience victory in Jesus.

 

CONCLUSION:

  Someone likened Satan and his angels to a poor-loser athletic team that is hopelessly behind with only a couple of minutes remaining in the game.  They know they can’t win so they take their frustration out by creating as much havoc as possible by treating the opposing players with disdain.  The wise, winning players refuse to retaliate.  Why should they?  They have already won.  Evil may attack us and may appear to be our destruction when viewed from the short perspective of human history.  But when viewed from the perspective of God’s salvation history, we have the complete and eternal victory.  Prepare for the battle!  Be faithful even unto death if necessary.  Then, claim the victory!

How does it encourage you to know that Jesus has already won the victory over sin, death, and Satan?  Does Satan have a way to defeat you in your relationship with the Lord?  What are your weak spots that Satan exploits to defeat your witness?  On a scale of 1 (rarely) to 10 (really hot) how would you rate your willingness to ask God’s Holy Spirit to help you strengthen the weaknesses in your witness?  Are you willing to follow through with a plan to improve?  If so, when will you start?

What are the implications of these truths for your life?  THE CHOICE IS YOURS, ISN’T IT!

REMEMBER, the safest place for a believer is in the center of God’s will.

 

Lesson Outline, Introduction, Discussion Questions, and Conclusion adapted from the following sources:

SOURCE: Life Ventures-Bible Studies for Life; Leader Guide; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; Nashville, TN.

SOURCE: The Herschel Hobbs Commentary; Family Bible Study; by Robert J. Dean; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; 1 LifeWay Plaza, Nashville, TN.

SOURCE: Advanced Bible Study; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; One LifeWay Plaza, Nashville, TN.

 

FOCAL PASSAGE: 

Focal Passage from three different translations of God’s Word:

King James Version:  Rev. 12:7-12

Revelation 12:7-12 (KJV)

7 And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels, 8 And prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven. 9 And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him. 10 And I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, Now is come salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of his Christ: for the accuser of our brethren is cast down, which accused them before our God day and night. 11 And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death. 12 Therefore rejoice, ye heavens, and ye that dwell in them. Woe to the inhabiters of the earth and of the sea! for the devil is come down unto you, having great wrath, because he knoweth that he hath but a short time.  

 

New King James Version:  Rev. 12:7-12

Revelation 12:7-12 (NKJV)

7 And war broke out in heaven: Michael and his angels fought with the dragon; and the dragon and his angels fought, 8 but they did not prevail, nor was a place found for them in heaven any longer. 9 So the great dragon was cast out, that serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was cast to the earth, and his angels were cast out with him. 10 Then I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, "Now salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of His Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren, who accused them before our God day and night, has been cast down. 11 And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, and they did not love their lives to the death. 12 Therefore rejoice, O heavens, and you who dwell in them! Woe to the inhabitants of the earth and the sea! For the devil has come down to you, having great wrath, because he knows that he has a short time."  

 

New International Version:  Rev. 12:7-12

Revelation 12:7-12 (NIV)

7 And there was war in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back. 8 But he was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven. 9 The great dragon was hurled down--that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him. 10 Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say: "Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Christ. For the accuser of our brothers, who accuses them before our God day and night, has been hurled down. 11 They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death. 12 Therefore rejoice, you heavens and you who dwell in them! But woe to the earth and the sea, because the devil has gone down to you! He is filled with fury, because he knows that his time is short."  

 

(NOTE:  Commentary for the focal passage comes from four sources: “Advanced Bible Study Commentary,” The Pulpit Commentary,Believer's Bible Commentary,” and “The Moody Bible Commentary,” and is provided for your study.)

 

Lesson Outline — “Satan” — Rev. 12:7-12

I.

II.

III.

Satan Seeks To Deceive Us (Rev. 12:7-9)

Satan Seeks to Accuse Us  (Rev. 12:10)

Satan Is Relentless—But He Is Defeated (Rev. 12:11-12)

COMMENTARY:

Advanced Bible Study Commentary: Rev. 12:7-12

I. Satan Seeks to Deceive Us—Rev. 12:7-12:  Satan is “a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44). He wants us to think that he is more powerful than he actually is, and that we, in Christ, are weaker than we actually are. As we will see, his deceptions are empty and impotent when compared to the power of God’s truth.

Revelation 12 introduces us to a battle in heaven between God and His angelic forces and Satan and his demonic hordes. War breaks out in the heavenly realm.

What is the battle about, and why did they fight? The battle, as John presented it, is about the birth of a baby: “She gave birth to a Son, a male who is going to rule all nations with an iron rod” (Rev. 12:5; Ps. 2:9). The child, of course, is none other than the Lord Jesus, the promised Messiah. The pregnant woman in 12:1-2 symbolizes God’s people. The identity of the dragon in 12:3 is revealed to be the devil in verse 9.

So, in John’s retelling, Satan opposed Jesus from the very beginning.

By bringing forward the real threat of the devil at the birth of Jesus, John showed the church that God’s plan for salvation has always been under attack. It still is today.

Sometimes Christians put on a “happy face” and pretend that things are OK in the world. John didn’t do that. He saw real evil in the real world. One of the responsibilities God has given His people is the call to face reality squarely, confident in God and His truth. We must name evil and sin in our world and not avoid the battle. When we, the church, name things as they really are—especially when they are evil, sinful, and broken—then we find strength to face opposition and suffering. The persecuted believers to whom John was writing needed to know what they were up against so they could stand firm in the strength God would provide.

John’s message of Christ’s victory offered the church great encouragement in the face of difficulty. John did not stop at naming evil; rather, he showed how evil and sin are swallowed up in the victory of God in Jesus Christ. Whether it was Jesus under threat at His birth, or the church under threat in her apparent weakness, the same devil who threatened the Savior in His most helpless state is the same devil who threatens the church in her most vulnerable state. And although it sometimes looks as though the dragon will win, John’s revelation shows that God triumphs over darkness, the devil, and all the forces of evil.

John encouraged his readers with the supreme hope that even when it seems like the church is losing ground, God is actively strengthening her and defending her against the attacks of the enemy. Note what the text says in verses 7-9. As the dragon and his angels wage war against the child, the armies of God defeat them and cast them out of heaven. The victory is assured: He was thrown to earth, and his angels with him. As God defended Jesus, so He will defend His church. The devil and his angels lost the battle in heaven and they are losing it on earth. While the church seems vulnerable to attack, this vulnerability opens the opportunity for God to display His power and glory for the good of His people.

So, then, the overall message of Revelation 12:7-9 is that our enemy has been defeated by the Son. Many questions remain,

however. First, who is Michael and what are angels and why or how do they operate?

In the Bible, angels are quite simply messengers of God. The Hebrew word for “angel” in the Old Testament is malak, which is the same word for “messenger.” The Greek term found in the New Testament for angel is angelos, normally translated “angel.” Sometimes the Scriptures describes angels with other names, such as: “heavenly beings” (Pss. 29:1; 89:6), “ministering spirits” (Heb. 1:14), “holy ones” (Ps. 89:5,7; Dan. 8:13), “watchers” (Dan. 4:13,17,23), “cherubim” (Gen. 3:24; Ex. 25:18-22; Pss. 80:1; 99:1; Isa. 37:16; Rev. 4:6), and “seraphim” (Isa. 6:2-6).

From the biblical teaching, there are a few things to remember about angels. Angels are not gods; rather, they are beings that God created at the beginning. Angels sometimes appear to be humans (though they are not, as in Gen. 18), and they do not marry (Matt. 22:30). Angels are emissaries of God, His envoys, and they do His bidding. Seraphim and cherubim surround God and protect and display His holiness (Isa. 6:2-6; Pss. 18:10; 80:1; 99:1; Heb. 1:7). Angels can sometimes appear otherworldly with wings and a semblance of human form, as in the case of the seraphim (Isa. 6:2-6). In whatever ways Scripture presents them, angels do whatever God asks of them: they announce God’s plans, reveal God’s work, or inform God’s people of divine action. They accompany God in His work and are sometimes agents of His work. Such is the case in Revelation 12.

In Revelation 12:7-9, angels comprise God’s heavenly army. In the Old Testament especially, God is described as the Lord of Armies (Yahweh Tsebaoth), which means that He is the ruler of the angelic forces (see Isa. 6:5; 47:4). In Revelation 12:7-9, God commands His angelic armies to wage war against the devil and his armies.

Leading God’s angelic army is the angel Michael. He is the angel who protects the people of God in the Book of Daniel (Dan. 12:1), so it is no wonder that he is the captain of the heavenly army in Revelation 12:7. Jude 1:9 describes him as an “archangel,” which means that he is a high-ranking angel with significant responsibility in the heavenly order of angels: his role is to protect the people of God. So, thus far we understand those angels who serve the Lord. However, Revelation 12:7-9 also presents another set of angels who rebel against the Lord.

Who is Satan and why does he have so many names? Revelation 12:7-9 presents the dragon and his angels who are cast from heaven. Who are they? These are angels that fall under the command of Satan and thus commit treason against God, their Maker. Because angels were created to serve, in their rebellion against God they began to serve Satan instead. Their rebellion is disastrous, as is Satan’s. They are hurled to earth in utter ruin. Satan is described in Revelation 12:7-9 as the rival of Michael, rather than of God. This is important. Satan is not a god. He is a creature, as is Michael. He is an angelic being rather than a divine being. As such, when Satan wages war against God it is a losing battle. The likelihood of Satan defeating God and His army is the likelihood of a measly water droplet quenching the fire of the sun.

Consider the number of titles used to describe the enemy in verses 7-9: the dragon; the great dragon; the ancient serpent; the devil and the Satan; and the one who deceives the whole world. A number of these terms have connections to the Old Testament. The dragon and great dragon connect back to the Old Testament prophets (Ezek. 29:3) and the Book of Psalms (Ps. 74:13-14). The image of the dragon is threatening and monstrous. Such is the reality of the enemy. He is threatening, monstrous, and terrible. Even so, we must remember that he is not God!

Linking the enemy with the title the ancient serpent is found only here, but the connection to Genesis 3 is clear. The enemy should be understood as that serpent who is the deceiver of humanity, as he was with Adam and Even in the Garden of Eden. Indeed, the enemy is the one who deceives the whole world. In this title, we understand the way the enemy draws others away from Christ through deception.

The term for “the one who deceives” is the Greek word planon. The theme of deception using this word (or a derivative of this Greek word) emerges throughout Revelation (2:20; 13:14; 18:23; 20:3,10). Satan is the one who deceives everyone: humans and angels alike. Angels went along with Satan in rebellion against God because he deceived them. He deceives the gullible into thinking that his words and his ways are like the words and ways of God, that his words lead to life and his way leads to blessing. But the exact opposite is true. His words are death and his ways are ruin. Thus, both the angels and humanity were deceived by listening to his voice. Anyone who listens to the deceiver is bound for ruin.

The title devil (diabolos in Greek) is used in rarely in the Book of Revelation, but Jesus uses the term to describe Satan’s role in leading others toward sin (John 8:44; 1 John 3:8). In John’s writings, those who sin are those who are the “devil’s children” (1 John 3:10). So, the term devil is a word that describes the one who leads others away from life and the Lord and towards sin and belong to the realm of sin.

II. Satan Seeks to Accuse Us—Rev. 12:10:  The term Satan (v. 9) actually speaks more of an office rather than serves as a proper name. That is why the definite article “the” precedes the word “Satan” in the original Greek. In the Old Testament, Satan is the one who makes an accusation against God or the people of God, as in the Book of Job (Job 1–2) or in Zechariah (Zech. 3:1-2). This is likely why the title “the accuser” emerges in verse 10. Satan and the accuser is the one who reproaches God of injustice, impotence, or some other inadequacy; Satan does the same with humanity in that he accuses God’s people of injustice, impotence, or some other inadequacy. In Revelation 12, the accusation may be that God or the church remains powerless before Satan’s might. But Satan’s accusation and deception are empty threats. God defeats all accusation and proves Himself just and powerful to deliver those who call upon His name and trust Him.

The defeat of the devil indicates the coming of “the kingdom of our God” (v. 10). A helpful definition of the kingdom of God is God’s rule amongst God’s people in God’s world (though Satan has influence for a time). Because the “accuser of our brothers” has been hurled down, it is evident that God’s kingdom has come, and it has come in particular in the reign of Jesus, the Messiah. The image in verse 10 is really victory. The word salvation is the Greek word soteria, and it indicates the victory of God over all

rivals—here the rival forces of Satan and his evil horde. As Satan’s defeat is complete, God’s victory is assured.

III. Satan Is Relentless—But He Is Defeated— Rev. 12:11-12:  These verses, along with verse 10, reveal the heavenly proclamation of the victory of the kingdom of God and the defeat of the devil. In fact, they are a hymn of praise to God. For those who were accused by Satan “day and night” (v. 10), the voice declares the source of their victory. Their victory over Satan is found in the blood of the Lamb (v. 11). This language, when it is used in Revelation, depicts the sacrifice of Jesus, particularly on the cross (Rev. 1:5-6; 5:9). It is through Jesus’ shed blood on the cross that humanity has forgiveness from sin and victory over Satan’s accusations. Although Satan accuses perpetually, the blood of Jesus gives victory, enabling those who embrace Jesus to conquer Satan’s accusations.

The victory of the “brothers and sisters” (v. 10) is by the blood of the Lamb, but it is accompanied by the word of their testimony. What does the word of their testimony mean? The Greek syntax of the phrase (dia ton logon tes marturias auton) indicates that their testimony is their word about the faithfulness of Jesus and His blood shed on their behalf. They faithfully witness to the victory they have in that blood, and their true testimony about Jesus is praised. As Stephen Smalley says of verse 11: “The believers who testify to the gospel of the Lord, and in this way share in His victory, are commended because ‘they did not cling to their lives in the face of death.’ ”1

This affirmation of the martyrs leads to verse 12, which is a call to praise and a warning. Essentially this verse calls the heavens to rejoice because of Jesus’ victory. Jesus has already won; Satan is a desperate, defeated foe whose time is short. One of John’s major purposes in Revelation is to instill and encourage faithfulness in Christ’s church. These verses do just that.

With all rival powers defeated, God’s reign on the earth is manifested in the authority that He gives to His King, Jesus the Messiah. The New Testament presents the work of Jesus as a fundamental change in time: from the old age of the power of sin and death and the devil to the new age of the coming of the kingdom of God. The full work of Jesus—His life, death, resurrection, and ascension—mark the ushering in of the kingdom of God. Because God’s kingdom has arrived in Jesus, life and forgiveness are possible. But the Book of Revelation testifies to Jesus coming again. Jesus rose from the grave and ascended into the heavens, but He promised to return. Our great hope is the “second coming of Jesus Christ.” The transition between the old age and the new age of the coming of the kingdom of God has already begun and will reach its consummation upon the return of

Christ in great glory and judgment.

1. Stephen S. Smalley, The Revelation of John: A Commentary on the Greek Text of the Apocalypse (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2005), 328.

SOURCE: Advanced Bible Study; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; One LifeWay Plaza, Nashville, TN.

The Pulpit Commentary:   Rev. 12:7-12

Verses 7, 8. And there was war in heaven. The passage vers. 7-13 is an interruption of the narrative of the persecution of the woman by Satan. It is caused, apparently, by a desire to account in some degree for the relentless hostility of the devil towards God and his Church. Two explanations of the passage may be referred to.

(1) Vers. 7-13 relate to the period anterior to the Creation, concerning which we have a slight hint in Jude 6. This, on the whole, seems to agree best with the general sense of the chapter, and to present fewest difficulties. Thus:

(a) It accounts for the insertion of the passage (see above).

(b) The war is directly between the devil and Michael, not between the devil and Christ, as at the Incarnation and Resurrection.

(c) Vers. 8 and 9 seem to require a more literal interpretation than that which makes them refer to the effects of Christ's resurrection.

(d) It was not at the period of the Incarnation that the scene of Satan's opposition was transferred to the earth, as described in ver. 12.

(e) The song of the heavenly voice may be intended to end with the word Christ (ver. 10), and the following passages may be the words of the writer of the Apocalypse, and may refer to the earthly martyrs (see on ver. 10).

(f) This attempt of the devil in heaven may be alluded to in John 1:5, “The darkness overcame it not” (see also John 12:35).

(2) The passage may refer to the incarnation and resurrection of Christ, and the victory then won over the devil. This interpretation renders the whole passage much more figurative.

(a) Michael is the type of mankind, which in the Person of Jesus Christ vanquishes the devil.

(b) Subsequent to the Resurrection Satan is no more allowed to accuse men before God in heaven, as he has done previously (see Job 1; 2; Zechariah 3:1; 1 Kings 22:19-22); he is thus the accuser cast down (ver. 10), and his place is no more found in heaven (ver. 8).

(c) The earth and sea represent the worldly and tumultuous nations. Perhaps the strongest argument in favour of the second view is found in Luke 10:18 and John 12:31. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; Michael and his angels [going forth] to war with the dragon (Revised Version). Alford explains the infinitive phrase as compounded of the genitive τοῦ and depending upon ἐγένετο. Michael (מָיכ־אֵל) signifies, “Who is like to God?” We may compare this with the cry of the worldly in Revelation 13:4, “Who is like unto the beast?” In Daniel, Michael is the prince who stands up for the people of Israel (Daniel 12:1; 10:13, 21). Michael, “the archangel,” is alluded to in Jude 1:9 as the great opposer of Satan. St. John, perhaps borrowing the name from Daniel, puts forward Michael as the chief of those who remained faithful to the cause of God in the rebellion of Satan and his angels. The angels of the dragon are the stars of ver. 4, which he drew with him to the earth, and possibly the reference to this event in ver. 4 gives rise to the account in vers. 7-13. Some commentators interpret the war here described as that between the Church and the world. Michael is thus made to be symbolical of Christ, and some have no difficulty in indicating a particular man (such as Licinius) as the antitype of the dragon. And the dragon fought and his angels, and prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven. The Greek is stronger, not even their place, etc. Οὐδέ is read in א, A, B, C, Andreas, Arethas; οὔτε is found in P, 1, 17, and others. So complete was the defeat of Satan that he was no longer permitted to remain in heaven in any capacity.

Verse 9. And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world; cast down (Revised Version); the whole inhabited earth (Revised Version, margin). “The dragon:” so called, because he is the destroyer (see on ver. 3). “The ancient serpent,” as he was revealed in Genesis 3. So in John 8:44 he is “the destroyer from the beginning.” “The devil” (Διάβολος) is the Greek rendering of the Hebrew Satan, ןמָשָׂ, “the accuser, the adversary;” reference is made in ver. 10 to the signification of the name, “The Deceiver.” Wordsworth says, “The deceits by which Satan cheated the world in oracles, sorcery, soothsaying, magic, and other frauds, are here specially noticed. These were put to flight by the power of Christ and of the Holy Ghost, in the preaching of the gospel by the apostles and others in the first ages of Christianity. Our Lord himself, speaking of the consequence of the preaching of the seventy disciples, reveals the spiritual struggle and the victory: ‘I was beholding Satan as lightning fall from heaven’ (Luke 10:17, 18).” He was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him; cast down to the earth, etc. (Revised Version). “To the earth” in a twofold sense:

(1) the phrase is a description of the loss of dignity and power on the part of Satan, in being cast to earth as opposed to heaven;

(2) earth is the scene of his future operations, where he may still in some degree sustain the struggle against God.

Verse 10. And I heard a loud voice saying in heaven. The “great voice” is characteristic of all the heavenly utterances (cf. Revelation 5:2; 6:1, 10; 16:17, etc.). The personality of the speaker is not indicated. From the following chorus the voice would seem to proceed from many inhabitants of heaven. Now is come salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of his Christ; the salvation and the power, and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Christ (Revised Version). The Revised Version marginal reading may also be noticed, Now is the salvation... become our God’s, and the authority [is become] his Christ’s. The heavenly inhabitants celebrate the triumphant confirmation of God's supremacy, which has been vindicated by the defeat and expulsion of the rebellious hosts. “The salvation of God” (σωτηρία) is that which proceeds from him; “that salvation which belongs to God as its Author” (Alford); cf. Revelation 7:10; 19:1. “The authority of his Christ” is first manifested in heaven; Satan is cast down to the earth, and here again at a subsequent epoch the authority of Christ is displayed, and another victory won over the devil. This seems to be the conclusion of the heavenly song. As before stated (see on ver. 7), the three and a half verses now concluded seem to relate to a period previous to the creation of the world. It seems equally probable that the following two and a half verses refer to those earthly martyrs and suffering Christians for whom this book is specially written. These two views can be reconciled by supposing the song of the heavenly voice to cease at the word “Christ” (ver. 10); and then the writer adds words of his own, as if he would say, “The cause of the victorious song which I have just recited was the fact that the devil was cast down, the same who is constantly accusing (ὁ κατηγορῶν) our brethren. But they (our brethren) overcame him, and valued not their lives, etc. Well may ye heavens rejoice over your happy lot, though it means woe to the earth for a short time.” For the accuser of our brethren is cast down, which accused them before our God day and night. The one accusing them (ὁ κατηρορῶν); not the past tense. Satan does not cease to accuse, though he may not do so with effect, since he may be overcome by the “blood of the Lamb.” The heavenly beings are henceforth beyond his reach. He can yet accuse men — our brethren — says St. John; but even here his power is limited by the victory of the death and resurrection of Christ referred to in ver. 5. “Accuser” (κατήγορος) is found in א, B, C, P, Andreas, Arethas. The form κατήγωρ, found in A, is rather the Targumic and rabbinic corruption of the word קטיגור, than the Greek word itself. “Of our brethren,” the saints and martyrs (see above); “is cast down” (or, “was cast down”) from heaven.

Verse 11. And they overcame him (cf. the frequent references to those who overcome, and the promises made to them, Revelation 2; 3.; 21:7, etc.). The reference “they” is to “our brethren,” the accused ones of ver. 10. By the blood of the Lamb; because of the blood, etc. (Revised Version). That is, “the blood of the Lamb” is the ground or reason of their victory, not the instrument. So in Revelation 1:9, “1 John... was in the island called Patmos, because of the Word of God (διὰ τὸν λόγον)” (cf. Revelation 6:9). Winer agrees with this view of the present passage, against Ewald and De Wette (p. 498 of Moulton's translation). “The Lamb,” who was seen “as it had been slain” (Revelation 5:6) — Christ. And by the word of their testimony; and on account of the word, etc. The one phrase is the natural complement of the other. “The blood of the Lamb” would have been shed in vain without the testimony, the outcome of the faith of his followers; that testimony would have been impossible without the shedding of the blood. And they loved not their lives unto the death; their life even unto death. That is, they valued not their life in this world, even to the extent of meeting death for the sake of giving their testimony. There is no article in the Greek, merely ἄχρι θανάτον; so also in the same phrase in Acts 22:4. The article of the Authorized Version in Acts 22:4 is probably derived from Wickliffe's Bible; that in the present passage, from Tyndale’s.

Verse 12. Therefore rejoice, ye heavens, and ye that dwell in them; O heavens (Revised Version). Κατοικοῦντες, “that dwell,” is read in א; 26, 29, 30, 31, 98, Andreas, Vulgate, Primasius, Memphitie, Armenian. The Revisers have followed the common reading of σκηνοῦντες, “tabernacled,” which is found in the majority of manuscripts. Alford observes, “There is no sense of transitoriness in St. John's use of σκηνόω, rather one of repose and tranquillity (cf. Revelation 7:15).” Κατασκηνοῦντες is found in C. So in Revelation 13:6 the abiding place of God is called his tabernacle. These are the words of the writer (see on ver. 10). The cause for this rejoicing has been given in ver. 9; the devil having been cast out, those in heaven enjoy absolute immunity from all harm which he can work. Woe to the inhabiters of the earth and of the sea! Woe for the earth and for the sea! (Revised Version). A few cursives give τοῖς κατοίκουσιν, “to the dwellers.” The influence of the devil works woe to the whole world — to the human inhabitants, to the animal and vegetable life of the earth which was cursed for man's sake (cf. Genesis 3:17). For the devil is come down unto you, having great wrath, because he knoweth that he hath but a short time; or, came down (aorist). “A short season” (καιρός) in which to exist in the world. His wrath, kindled by his ejectment from heaven, is the greater because of the comparative shortness of his reign on earth. This “short season” is the period of the world's existence from the advent of Satan till the final judgment. It is short in comparison with eternity, and it is frequently thus described in the New Testament (Romans 9:28; 1 Corinthians 7:29; Revelation 3:11, etc.). It is the “little time” of Revelation 6:11; the “little season” of Revelation 20:3, during which Satan must be loosed. Here ends the digression descriptive of the struggle in heaven before the creation of the world, and the following verses take up and continue the narrative which was interrupted after ver. 6.

SOURCE:  The Pulpit Commentary; Volume 22: Peter-Revelation; Database © 2007 WORDsearch Corp.

 

Believer's Bible Commentary: Rev. 12:7-12

12:7.  War breaks out in heaven with Michael and his angels on one side and the dragon and his angels on the other. This is in the middle of the Tribulation. Michael, the archangel, is associated with the affairs of the nation of Israel (Dan. 12:1).

12:8, 9.  The dragon is so thoroughly defeated that he loses any right of access to heaven. He and his minions are cast down to the earth. This is not his final fate, however (see 20:1-3, 10). Notice John's description of him: the great dragon, that serpent of old, the Devil, Satan, the one who deceives the whole world.

12:10.  The eviction of the dragon is followed by a loud cry in heaven that God's triumph and the day of His people's conquest have come. This anticipates the Millennial Kingdom. In the meantime, it is a glorious event that the accuser of our brethren... has been cast down.

12:11.  The announcement continues. Persecuted Jewish believers overcame the evil one by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony. Their victory was based on the death of Christ and their testimony to the value of that death. In faithfulness to Him, they sealed their testimony with their blood.

12:12, 13.  The heavens can rejoice over the dragon's departure, but it is bad news for the earth and the sea! The devil... knows his time is short and he is determined to pour out his wrath as widely as possible. The dragon's spleen is vented especially against Israel, the nation from which the Messiah came.

SOURCE: Believer's Bible Commentary; by William MacDonald; Copyright © 1995, 1992, 1990, 1989 by William McDonald. Database © 2014 WORDsearch.

The Moody Bible Commentary: Rev. 12:7-12

War in Heaven (12:7-12)

12:7-12. The second sign is a war in heaven, further accentuating the age-old battle that would continue through the tribulation period. This pitched conflict featured Michael (the leader of God's faithful angels) versus Satan (the leader of the demonic foes) (v. 7), with Michael's followers prevailing (v. 8). Apparently, Satan will have access to heaven until this time. John's overall handling of this conflict may be understood in the following sequence. (1) Satan has many human followers on the earth (Jn 8:42-44) over which he now rules with God's permission (1Jn 5:19). (2) His ultimate defeat is assured by Christ's death on the cross (Jn 12:31-32). (3) During the great tribulation he will be cast out of heaven (Rv 12:8) to earth where he will seduce the world (13:4). (4) After the tribulation, he will be bound by God and unable to oppose believers until near the end of the millennium (Rv 20:2). (5) Then he will be released to foster one final rebellion (Rv 20:7-8). (6) After that he is cast finally into the lake of fire where he will experience eternal torment (Rv 20:10). The vision describes this fiend as the serpent (v. 9; see Gn 3:1), the devil ("the slanderer"), and Satan ("the adversary"). During his vision the apostle heard a loud voice praise God for His sovereign deliverance of His people from the accuser of our brethren (v. 10). No railing slander against a believer would ever again be heard in heaven. As this portion of the vision concluded, John heard testimony that these believers in the tribulation had overcome the accuser (v. 11). Although Satan would do serious damage to God's people, they would prevail in the end. The verses above may well be the theological center of the book as they emphasize the certainty of Satan's defeat, and the perseverance of the saints. While the vision assured ultimate victory, it was still distant. The Devil would pour out his wrath during the short time he had left (v. 12). The defeated rebel would destroy as long as he was allowed to operate.

First-century believers suffering under Roman rule would have been greatly heartened by such good news. If future generations of believers could make it through the tribulation, they could faithfully endure as well. Present-day believers may also rejoice that ultimate victory has been assured through Christ's work on the cross and that no accusation of Satan will ever be received against them!

SOURCE: The Moody Bible Commentary; by Michael Rydelnik and Michael Vanlaningham; © 2014 by The Moody Bible Institute of Chicago. Database © 2015 WORDsearch.

 

DIGGING DEEPER: Key Word(s)

The dragon (v. 7)—The dragon is identified as the Devil and Satan, God’s chief adversary (12:9; 20:2).

 SOURCE: Life Ventures-Bible Studies for Life; Leader Guide; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; Nashville, TN.

Names for the dragon (vv. 7-9)—Based on these three verses, what names are given to dragon and what is the significance of each? (1) the dragon and great dragon connect back to the  Old Testament (see Ezek. 29:3; Ps. 74:13-14); (2) the ancient serpent connects to Genesis 3 where he deceives Adam and Eve and goes on to eventually deceive the whole world; and (3) the Devil, that connects to the one who leads others away from life and the Lord and towards sin and belong to the realm of sin.

Advanced Bible Study; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; One LifeWay Plaza, Nashville, TN.

The ancient serpent (v. 9)—Another description for the dragon, the serpent recalls the snake who tempted Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden (Gen. 3:1-7).

SOURCE: Life Ventures-Bible Studies for Life; Leader Guide; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; Nashville, TN.

The blood of the Lamb (v. 11)—The victory of God’s people over the devil is due to the sacrificial death of Jesus, the Lamb of God (John 1:29), on the cross.

SOURCE: Life Ventures-Bible Studies for Life; Leader Guide; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; Nashville, TN.

Michael: Archangel who served as the guardian of the national of Israel (Dan. 10:13,21; 12:1). Together with Gabriel, Michael fought for Israel against the prince (angelic patron) of Persia. This angelic Michael figures in much extra-biblical literature in the intertestamental period. In Revelation 12:7 Michael commands the forces of God against the forces of the dragon in a war in heaven. Jude 9 refers to a dispute between the devil and Michael over Moses’ body. According to Origin (A.D. 185? to 254?), this account formed part of the extra-biblical work, The Assumption of Moses. The incident is not mentioned in the surviving fragments of this work.

SOURCE: Holman Bible Dictionary; General Editor, David S. Dockery; Holman Bible Publishers; Nashville, Tennessee.

Devil, Satan, Evil, Demonic:  The personal dimension of that which opposes God’s purposes in His world. For some people, belief in a personal Satan is part of mankind’s nursery furniture. The concept of a personal Satan, however, has remained a part of evangelical thought. The present-day Christian who accepts the biblical teaching concerning Satan is not committed to all of the crude imagery that has sprung up around belief in Satan. In the light of medieval and modern distortions, a careful consideration of the biblical teaching concerning Satan is especially needed.

Old Testament Teaching: A fully defined doctrine of Satan is not fund in the Bible until New Testament times. A number of reasons have been suggested for the relatively limited material on Satan in the Old Testament.

God began His self-revelation in the ancient world of polytheism (belief in many gods). God wanted to lead His people to a dynamic practical monotheism (the belief in and worship of one God). In the Old Testament a primary emphasis is placed on the supremacy of and the power of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, who delivered the Hebrews from the slavery of Egypt.

Satan, the chief of the fallen angels, is mentioned in a number of places in the Old Testament. It is clear that from the very moment of the creation of this world that Satan and fallen angels were on the scene, rebels against God. Satan was evidently perfect in his original state. Pride seems to have been the cause of his fall. Disguised as a serpent, he was the agent of temptation for the first man and woman (Gen. 3:10; Rev. 12:9; 20:2). When Satan does appear in the Old Testament he is always the adversary of God’s people. He seeks to lead God’s people into presumption (1 Chron. 21:1) or slanders them to God’s face (Zech. 3:1).

The most extensive Old Testament discussion of Satan is in Job. Here he is seen as God’s agent and minister, who tested human fidelity. He makes a wager with God using Job as the stake. He acts, however, with the express permission of God and keeps within the limits which God has fixed for him (Job 1:12; 2:6).

New Testament Teaching: By the time the New Testament book were written, God had led their authors to a clear-cut doctrine of Satan. This doctrine located an origin of evil in Satan. This recognizes the reality of evil outside and beyond the scope of human will. The New Testament avoids identifying evil with the direct will of God and keeps it always and finally subordinate to God.

Matthew, Mark, and Luke clearly accept and teach a doctrine of a personal Satan and his agents called fallen angels or demons (Mark 3:22). Matthew 4:1 tells of Jesus being tempted by the devil in the wilderness. In Matthew 25:41 even hell is described as being prepared for the devil and his angels. Satan and demons are seen as able to inflict disease (Matt. 17:5-18; Luke 13:16). Satan possessed Judas (Luke 22:3). John saw Satan as the prince of this world (John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11) with the whole world in his power (1 John 5:19).

The apostle Paul’s world view teaches that Satan is the god of this age. The cosmos or unredeemed world is at present under Satan’s power. Satan is now the “commander of the spiritual powers of the air” (Eph. 2:2 REB) and leads “the superhuman forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Eph. 6:12 REB).

The general New Testament Epistles describe Satan’s activities graphically. Second Peter 2:4 speaks of the “angels that sinned” and Jude 6 of the “angels which kept not their first estate.” The constant use of violence and deceit by Satan requires that believers manifest courage and extreme vigilance (Jas. 4:7; 1 Pet. 5:8-9).

The book of Revelation sees Satan’s activities as involving not only individuals but communities. Political forces can become servants of the devil (Rev. 12; 13). Revelation 2:13 even speaks of a throne of Satan.

It should be remembered that the New Testament teaches that Satan and his demonic allies are not coequal with God. He is a created being who has rebelled and can tempt—but not force. The main concern of the Bible is not with the devil but with God and the gospel of His grace. Satan and the demonic forces have been overcome by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The New Testament never allows complete pessimism. In the end Satan and his angels will be completely overcome. In fact, Jesus came into the world to “destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8). The cross was a decisive victory over Satan and Satan’s host (Col. 2:15). This victory insured that countless numbers would be delivered from the dominion of darkness and transferred to the kingdom of Christ (Col. 1:13).

Limitations of Satan: Today, people continue to concretize their fears. They want a scapegoat to deliver them from responsibility. Satan is a created, rebellious and tempting evil power active in the universe, but his powerful existence does not exclude a person from responsibility. Satan and the demonic forces cannot dominate or possess us except by our own consent. Believers will not be tempted beyond our power of resistance (1 Cor. 10:13). The power of Satan is limited. He acts within the limits set by divine sovereignty. The believer has God’s armor—the biblical gospel, integrity, peace through Christ, faith in Christ, prayer—as spiritual security (Eph. 6:11-18).

The recent fascination with Satan and demons is in reaction to an earlier disbelief. Christians should beware of excessive gullibility as well as extreme oversimplification. Knowledge about Satan and evil angels alerts Christians to the danger and subtlety of satanic temptation. We should not become too absorbed in satanic forces. Satan and demonic forces are active, but they are limited. We must remember that the main thrust of Christianity is on the availability of God’s power and love in Jesus Christ and the Spirit.

SOURCE: Holman Bible Dictionary; General Editor, David S. Dockery; Holman Bible Publishers; Nashville, Tennessee.

Apocalyptic describes: (1) writings from God that employ symbolic language to tell of a divine intervention soon to take place; (2) the doctrinal system explicit in these writings; and (3) the movement(s) that produced the writings and doctrines. See expanded definitions for Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha Writings below.

Old Testament: While portions of Joel, Amos, Zechariah, and Isaiah have apocalyptic features, Daniel is the only Old Testament book which is wholly apocalyptic.

New Testament: “Apocalyptic” is derived from the Greek verb apokalupto, “to uncover,” and so figuratively “to disclose, reveal.” Its use, however, is due to the opening word of the Book of Revelation, apokalupsis, which means an “uncovering,” “a disclosure, a revelation.” This term has passed into English as “apocalypse.” When writers refer to “the Apocalypse,” they mean the Book of Revelation; when they speak of an apocalypse, or apocalypses, or apocalyptic writings, they mean works written in a similar style to the Book of Revelation. The first sentence of the Book of Revelation is noteworthy in this connection: “The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave to him, to shew unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass; and he sent and signified it by his angel unto his servant John: who bare record of all things that he saw.” The italicized expressions illustrate the fundamental features of the genre of apocalyptic: these writings claim to originate from God; they most frequently tell of a divine intervention soon to take place; their authors often use sign language—i.e. they “sign-ify,” employing pictorial language which is also parabolic; an angelic intermediary commonly explains to the prophet the meaning of the message conveyed to him; and the prophet makes known to others his visions (“all that he saw”). John’s “apocalypse” is specifically stated to be a Christian revelation: it is “the revelation of Jesus Christ,” received from God; accordingly it is described as “the Word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ.” It is thereby declared to be an authentic apocalypse. John the prophet would have been aware that there were many other works which possessed similar literary characteristics as his own, the most notable being the Book of Daniel.

Extra-biblical Sources: The other apocalyptic writings are outside the Bible and mainly belong to the period 200 B.C.-A.D. 100. The best known of the extra-biblical apocalyptic books are 1 Enoch (often called “Ethiopic Enoch,” since it survives in that language), 2 Enoch, 4 Ezra, and 2 Baruch. With these Jubilees, Psalms of Solomon, Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, and the Sibylline Oracles are generally classed, although their form differs from that of “classic apocalyptic.” It is not clear, however, that we should postulate a standard structure of apocalyptic writing; the use of symbolism, whether of animals or of mythical monsters, of visions and of messianic woes varies greatly. Various forms are used to convey the apocalyptic message. For example, the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs take the form of testaments, but poetic composition appears in the Sybilline Oracles. The most complete collection of Jewish and Christian apocalypses ever assembled is in the two volumes, The Old Testament Pseudepigraphs, edited by J. H. Charlesworth (New York, 1983, 1985).

Apocalyptic Movement: The so-called “apocalyptic movement” which gave birth to the apocalyptic literature had its roots in Israel’s history. The creation myths of the Semitic world supplied quarries for the picture language employed by the prophets and apocalyptists. The leading literary features and apocalyptic message were conditioned above all by Israel’s history and experience of God. Historical alienation created the conditions wherein apocalypticism flourished. Estrangement resulted from the disintegration of society, caused by oppression or the ravages of war. The isolation of a group within its society also caused alienation. While the Jewish literature that concerns us was the offspring of Old Testament prophecy, the apocalyptic movement had parallels in the contemporary world of the Middle East. Other nations resisted Greek rule and created hopes of a renewal of a native kingship. They divided history into four successive kingdoms and expected a god to intervene to restore order and bring victory. This shows the links between the religious thought of nations of the ancient world, of their response to aggressive oppression, and of their hope in deliverance from God.

Characteristics of Apocalyptic Writing: The characteristics of Jewish apocalyptic writings are widely discussed, sometimes without due regard for the diversity in these writings. It is commonly agreed that three major features characterize apocalyptic thinking: dualism, determinism, and pessimism. Dualism is the dominant characteristic and is expressed in two ways: (1) in a dual spacial order—powers of heaven and powers of hell, hence angels and demons in abundance, spirits of good and spirits of evil, a holy Spirit and an evil prince of this world; (2) in a historical dualism—the present age is ruled by the evil powers and is wholly wicked, but it will be succeeded by the age to come, which will be ruled by God and therefore will be good. The ordering of the ages for the accomplishment of God’s purpose in the coming age often entails a determinism, which can be applied to the last detail of history. This means God has already planned each historical event regardless of human choices and acts. This in turn can lead to pessimism, such as that in 4 Ezra. Examples of dualism or determinism in some literature does not mean every writer of apocalyptic works believed in a world dominated by dualism and determinism. Persian religion had the ultimate dualism. The powers of good and evil were co-equal. This was impossible in Jewish thought, whose main belief was one God without equal. The idea that the devil is lord of the present age was not shared by all apocalyptists; for example, in Daniel 4:25, Nebuchadnezzar was told that he would be humbled until he learned that “the most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will,” (compare Rev. 13:5-10). Positively, we should view these insights as subsumed under the heading of the sovereignty of God. He is Lord of the universe, and so of all powers; the good are His ministers, the evil have to contribute to His will. The two ages are a clarification of the prophetic view of history leading to the day of the Lord, the coming of God, and the fulfillment of His purpose in the victorious kingdom of God. The determinism of which these writings speak is an attempt to set forth God’s will as done on earth as in heaven. Such a faith is not rightly described as pessimism. It certainly postulates the inability of humanity to save itself and thus looks to God to complete history in the kingdom of glory. The end therefore is good!

Most apocalyptic works are ascribed to an ancient saint, as their names imply (for example, the books of Enoch, the Apocalypse of Abraham, of Noah, of Ezra, of Baruch). The reason for this form is still uncertain; it obviously includes the desire for a book to gain a hearing, but it also expresses the conviction that the revelations have come down from ancient times, somewhat as the Pharisees believed that their tradition went back to Moses. Pseudonymity, however, was not a necessary adjunct of apocalyptic work; the literature of Qumran is without it, and the supreme example of apocalyptic writing, the Book of Revelation, was issued in the name of its author.

Significance: The chief importance of the apocalyptic literature was its enabling the prophetic faith in God and hope for His kingdom to burn brightly in oppressive times. At its best it was more than maintenance of dogma. It encouraged people to be ready for and participate in God’s final victory in history. Thus it encouraged an alienated, estranged, defeated people to live for God and to hope in His promised coming. Apocalyptic writing found its correction and true fulfillment in the message of Jesus, and in His living, dying, rising, and the hope of His appearance.

SOURCE: Holman Bible Dictionary; General Editor, David S. Dockery; Holman Bible Publishers; Nashville, Tennessee.

Apocrypha:  Jews did not stop writing for centuries between the Old Testament and the New. The Intertestamental Period was a time of much literary production. We designate these writings as Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha. (See Pseudepigrapha, below.) They did not attain canonical status, but some of them were cited by early Christians almost on a level with the Old Testament writings, and a few were copied in biblical manuscripts. Some New Testament authors were familiar with various non-canonical works, and the Epistle of Jude made specific reference to at least one of these books. They were ultimately preserved by the Christians rather than by the Jews.

Meaning “things that are hidden,” apocrypha is applied to a collection of fifteen books written between about 200 B.C. and A.D. 100. These are not a part of the Old Testament but are valued by some for private study. The word “apocrypha” is not found in the Bible. Although never part of the Hebrew Scriptures, all fifteen apocryphal books except 2 Esdras appear in the Greek translation of the Old Testament, the Septuagint. They were made a part of the official Latin Bible, the Vulgate. All except 1 and 2 Esdras and the Prayer of Mannasseh are considered canonical (in the Bible) and authoritative by the Roman Catholic Church. From the time of the Reformation, the apocryphal books have been omitted from the canon of the Protestant churches. The Apocrypha represent various types of literature: historical, historical romance, wisdom, devotional, and apocalyptic.

First Esdras is a historical book from the early first century A.D. Paralleling material in the last chapters of 2 Chronicles, Ezra, and Nehemiah, it covers the period from Josiah to the reading of the law by Ezra. In a number of places, it differs from the Old Testament account. It is believed that this writing drew from some of the same sources used by the writers of the canonical Old Testament books. The Three Guardsmen Story, 3:1-5:3, is the one significant passage in 1 Esdras that does not occur in the Old Testament. It tells how Zerubbabel was allowed to lead the exiles back to Palestine.

The most important historical writing in the Apocrypha is 1 Maccabees. It is the primary source for writing the history of the period it covers, 180 to 134 B.C. The emphasis is that God worked through Mattathias and his sons to bring deliverance. He did not intervene in divine, supernatural ways. He worked through people to accomplish His purposes. The writer was a staunch patriot. For him nationalism and religious zeal were one and the same. After introductory verses dealing with Alexander the Great, the book gives the causes for the revolt against the Seleucids. Much detail is given about the careers of Judas and Jonathan. Less attention is given to Simon, although emphasis is placed upon his being acclaimed leader and high priest forever. Brief reference to John Hyrcanus at the close suggests that the book was written either late in his life or after his death, probably shortly after 100 B.C.

Second Maccabees also gives the history of the early part of the revolt against the Seleucids, covering the period from 180 to 161 B.C. It is based upon five volumes written by Jason of Cyrene, about which volumes nothing is known. Second Maccabees, written shortly after 100 B.C., is not considered as accurate historically as 1 Maccabees. In places the two books disagree. This book begins with two letters written to Jews in Egypt urging them to celebrate the cleansing of the Temple by Judas. In the remainder of the writing, the author insisted that the Jews’ trouble came as the result of their sinfulness. He emphasized God’s miraculous intervention to protect the Temple and His people. Great honor was bestowed upon those who were martyred for their faith. The book includes the story of seven brothers and their mother who were put to death. The book clearly teaches a resurrection of the body, at least for the righteous.

Tobit is a historical romance written about 200 B.C. It is more concerned to teach lessons than to record history. The story is of a family carried into exile in Assyria when Israel was destroyed. The couple, Tobit and Anna, had a son named Tobias. Tobit had left a large sum of money with a man in Media. When he became blind, he sent his son to collect the money. A man was found to accompany the son Tobias. In reality he was the angel Raphael. Parallel to this is the account of a relative named Sarah. She had married seven husbands, but a demon had slain each of them on the wedding night. Raphael told Tobias that he was eligible to marry Sarah. They had caught a fish and had preserved the heart, liver, and gall. When burned, the heart and liver would drive away a demon. The gall would cure blindness. Thus Tobias was able to marry Sarah without harm. Raphael collected the money that was left in Media, and the blindness of Tobit was cured by means of the fish’s gall. The book stresses Temple attendance, paying of tithes, giving alms, marrying only within the people of Israel, and the importance of prayer. Obedience to the law is central along with separation of Jews from Gentiles. It introduces the concept of a guardian angel.

The book of Judith, from 250 to 150 B.C. shows the importance of obedience to the law. In this book Nebuchadnezzar, the king of the Assyrians, reigned at the time the Jews returned from Exile. This shows it is not historically accurate, for Cyrus of Persia was king when the Jews returned from Exile (538 B.C.). The story may be based upon some event where a woman played an heroic role in the life of her people. In the story Nebuchadnezzar sent one of his generals, Holofernes, to subjugate the nations in the western part of his empire. The Jews resisted. Holofernes laid siege to the city of Bethulia (unknown except for this reference). Because of a shortage of water, the city decided to surrender in five days if God did not intervene. Judith had been a widow for three years and had been careful to obey all the law. She stated that God was going to act through her to save His people. She went with her maid to the camp of Holofernes, claiming that God was going to destroy the people because of their sin. She promised to show the general how he could capture the city without loss of a life. At a banquet a few days later, when Holofernes had drunk himself into a coma, she cut off his head and took it back to the city. The result was a great victory for the Jews over their enemies. This book places emphasis upon prayer and fasting. Idolatry is denounced, and the God of Israel is glorified. The book shows a strong hatred of pagans. Its moral content is low, for it teaches that the end justifies the means.

The Apocrypha contains additions to the book of Esther. The Hebrew text of Esther contains 163 verses, but the Greek contains 270. These additions are in six different places in the Greek text. However, in the Latin Vulgate they are all placed at the end. These sections contain such matters as the dream of Mordecai, the interpretation of that dream, the texts of the letters referred to in the canonical book, (Esther 1:22; 3:13; 8:5,10; 9:20,25-30) and the prayers of Esther and Mordecai. The additions give a more obviously religious basis for the book. In the Old Testament book of Esther, God is never named. This omission is remedied by the additions which were probably made between 125 and 75 B.C.

The Song of the Three Young Men is one of three additions to the book of Daniel. It follows Daniel 3:23 in the Greek text. It satisfies curiosity about what went on in the furnace into which the three men were thrown. The final section is a hymn of praise to God. It emphasizes that God acts to deliver His people in response to prayer. This writing, along with the other two additions to Daniel, probably comes from near 100 B.C.

The story of Susanna is added at the close of the Book of Daniel in the Septuagint. It tells of two judges who were overpowered by the beauty of Susanna and sought to become intimate with her. When she refused, they claimed they had seen her being intimate with a young man. Authorities believed their charges and condemned the young lady to death. Daniel then stated that the judges were lying, and he would prove it. He asked them, separately, under what tree they saw Susanna and the young man. When they identified different kinds of trees, their perjury became apparent. They were condemned to death, and Susanna was vindicated.

The third addition to Daniel is Bel and the Dragon, placed before Susanna in the Septuagint. Bel was an idol worshiped in Babylon. Large quantities of food were placed in Bel’s temple each night and consumed before the next morning. King Cyrus asked Daniel why he did not worship Bel, and Daniel replied that Bel was only a man-made image. He would prove to the king that Bel was not alive. Daniel had ashes sprinkled on the floor of the temple and food placed on Bel’s altar before sealing the temple door. The next morning the seals on the doors were intact, but when the doors were opened the food was gone. However, the ashes sprinkled on the floor revealed footprints of the priests and their families. They had a secret entrance and came at night and ate the food brought to the idol. The second part of the story of Bel and the Dragon concerned a dragon worshiped in Babylon. Daniel killed the dragon by feeding it cakes of pitch, fat, and hair. The people were outraged, and Daniel was thrown into the lions’ den for seven days. However, the lions did not harm him. These stories ridicule paganism and the worship of idols.

The next four apocryphal books are examples of Wisdom literature. The Wisdom of Solomon which was not written by Solomon, was probably written about 100 B.C. in Egypt. The first section of the book gave comfort to oppressed Jews and condemned those who had turned from their faith in God. It shows the advantages of wisdom over wickedness. The second section is a hymn of praise to wisdom. Wisdom is identified as a person present with God, although it is not given as much prominence as in some other writings. The final section shows wisdom as helpful to Israel throughout its history. This writing presents the Greek concept of immortality rather than the biblical teaching of resurrection.

The Wisdom of Jesus the Son of Sirach is also known as Ecclesiasticus. It emphasizes the importance of the law and obedience to it. Written in Hebrew about 180 B.C., it was translated into Greek by the author’s grandson shortly after 132 B.C. The book has two main divisions, 1-23 and 24-51, each beginning with a description of wisdom. The writer was a devout Jew, highly educated, with the opportunity to travel outside Palestine. Thus he included in his writing not only traditional Jewish wisdom but material that he found of value from the Greek world. He pictured the ideal scribe as one who had time to devote himself to the study of the law. Chapters 44-50 are a praise of the great fathers of Israel, somewhat similar to Hebrews 11. Wisdom is highly exalted. She is a person made by God. She goes into the earth to seek a dwelling place. After she is rejected by other people, she is established in Zion. Wisdom is identified with the law.

The Book of Baruch is also in the wisdom category. It is a combination of two or three different writings. The first section is in prose and claims to give a history of the period of Jeremiah and Baruch. However, it differs from the Old Testament account. The second section is poetry and a praise of wisdom. The final section is also poetic and gives a word of hope for the people. As in Sirach, wisdom and law are equated. It was written shortly before 100 B.C.

The Letter of Jeremiah is often added to Baruch as chapter 6. As the basis for his work, the author evidently used Jeremiah 29:1-23, in which Jeremiah did write a letter to the exiles. However, this letter comes from before 100 B.C. It is a strongly worded condemnation of idolatry.

The Prayer of Manasseh is a devotional writing. It claims to be the prayer of the repentant king whom the Old Testament pictured as very wicked (2 Kings 21:10-17). Second Kings makes no suggestion that Manasseh repented. However, 2 Chronicles 33:11-13,18-19 states that he did repent and that God accepted him. This writing from before 100 B.C. is what such a prayer of repentance might have been.

The final book of the Apocrypha is 2 Esdras, written too late to be included in the Septuagint. Chapters 1-2 and 15-16 are Christian writings. Chapters 3-14, the significant part of the work, are from about 20 B.C. This writing is an apocalypse, a type of writing popular among the Jews in the Intertestamental Period and which became popular among Christians. See Apocalyptic. Daniel in the Old Testament and Revelation in the New Testament represent this type of writing. Apocalyptic calls attention to the difficult circumstances of God’s people and centers upon the end of the age and the new age which God will inaugurate. Second Esdras contains seven sections or visions. In the first three, Ezra seeks answers from an angel about human sin and the situation of Israel. The answer he receives is that the situation will change only in the new age that God is about to inaugurate. The third section pictures the Messiah. He will remain four hundred years and then die. The next three visions stress God’s coming intervention and salvation of His people through the pre-existent Messiah. The final section states that the end will be soon and reports that Ezra was inspired to write ninety-four books. Twenty-four are a rewrite of the canonical Old Testament while the other seventy are to be given to the wise. The last two chapters of 2 Esdras contain material common to the New Testament.

SOURCE: Holman Bible Dictionary; General Editor, David S. Dockery; Holman Bible Publishers; Nashville, Tennessee.

Pseudepigrapha (pssewd eh pih’ gra fuh) Intertestamental literature not accepted into the Christian or Jewish canon of Scripture and often attributed to an ancient hero of faith. Ongoing discovery and research provide differing lists of contents. A recent publication listed 52 writings. They give much information about the development of Jewish religion and culture. Pseudepigraphal Books—Pseudepigrapha means, “writings falsely attributed.” This is based on those books claiming to be written by Adam, Enoch, Moses, and other famous Old Testament people. Some of the writings are anonymous; thus some scholars prefer the name “outside books” for all of these writings, emphasizing that they did not become part of canon. Some ancient Christians and the Roman church have used the term “Apocrypha,” since for them what Protestants call Apocrypha is part of their canon. (See Apocrypha, above.)

Both Palestinian and Hellenistic Jews authored books in the Pseudepigrapha. They used a variety of styles and literary types—legend, poetry, history, philosophy—but apocalypse was the dominant literary type. (See Apocalyptic, above.) A review of the most important and representative books will show the significance of the Pseudepigrapha in understanding the background of the New Testament.

First Enoch has been preserved in the Ethiopic language. It is a composite work of five sections, written at different times. The first section (chs. 1-36) tells how Enoch was taken up into heaven and shown its secrets. The sons of God of Genesis 6 were seen as angels. They committed sin, and the children born to them were evil giants. Emphasis is placed upon judgment and punishment. Even the realm of the dead is divided into separate places for the righteous and the wicked. The second section (chs. 37-71) is the most important for its relation to the Bible. It is the Parables or Similitudes. These chapters refer to the son of man. Opinions differ as to how such references form part of the background to the New Testament teachings about Jesus as the Son of man. There is uncertainty about the date of this section, of chapters. The rest of the book comes from between 200 and 1 B.C., but the Similitudes may have been written later, shortly before A.D. 100. Fragments of all the other sections have been found in the caves of Qumran, but no fragments of this section have been discovered yet. The third section (chs. 78-82) deals with the heavenly bodies. The author argues for a calendar based on the movement of the sun in distinction to the standard Jewish lunar calendar. The fourth section (chs. 83-90) contains two dream visions dealing with the flood and the history of Israel from Adam to the Maccabean revolt. The final section (chs. 91-108) gives religious instruction concerning the end time. The entire book is apocalyptic.

Second Enoch is also an apocalypse preserved primarily in the Slavonic language. It was written between 100 B.C. and A.D. 100. In it Enoch was taken up into heaven and commanded to write 366 books. He was allowed to return to earth for thirty days to teach his sons, after which he returned to heaven. This writing describes the contents of the seven heavens and divides time into seven one-thousand year periods.

Second Baruch is apocalyptic and shows how some Jews responded to the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in A.D. 70. It was written shortly before 100 A.D. Three visions seek to console the people by showing that even though destruction has come, God has prepared something better for them. The writings teach that the Messiah will be revealed to bring in a time of great plenty. Emphasis is placed on obedience to the Law.

The Sibylline Oracles were very popular apocalyptic writings in the ancient world. The Jews took over the originally pagan writings and modified them by inserting ideas about monotheism, Mosaic requirements, and Jewish history. Three of the fifteen books in the collection are missing. Book 3, from between 200 and 100 B.C., is the most important and the most Jewish. It traces Jewish history from the time of Abraham to the building of the second Temple. It pronounces God’s judgment upon pagan nations, but holds out hope that they may turn to God.

The Testament of Moses (sometimes called the Assumption of Moses) is also apocalyptic. The manuscripts are incomplete, and the missing portion may have contained an account of Moses’ death and his being taken to heaven. Early Christian writers state that Jude 9 was to be found in the Assumption of Moses known to them. This book is a rewriting of Deuteronomy 31-34. Moses is the chosen mediator of God, prepared from the beginning of time. The book traces the history of the people from their beginning to the author’s own time. Since chapters 6 and 7 seem to refer to Herod the Great, the book was probably written shortly after A.D. 1. It emphasized that God has planned all things and keeps them under His control.

The Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs are patterned after Genesis 49, the closing instructions of Jacob to his sons. Each of the sons of Jacob addressed his descendants, giving a brief survey of his life, with special attention to some sin or failure. For example, Reuben stressed his adultery with Bilhah (Gen. 35:22), and Simeon told of his jealousy of Joseph. Joseph, however, emphasized the maintaining of his purity. Using the confessed sin as a background, patriarchs urged their children to live in an upright manner. Special emphasis is given to love for the neighbor and sexual purity. In most of the testaments, the children are told to give honor to Levi and Judah. The book refers to two messiahs: one from Levi, one from Judah. The earliest portions of the testaments come from after 200 B.C.

The Book of Jubilees is a rewriting of Genesis and the opening chapters of Exodus from after 200 B.C. It traces the history of Israel from creation to the time of Moses, dividing time into jubilee periods, forty-nine years each. The calendar is based on the sun, not the moon. The sabbath was kept by the angels in heaven who were circumcised. The writer strongly opposed the Gentile influences he found coming into Judaism urging Jews to keep separate from the Gentiles. In the Book of Jubilees, Abraham was the ideal righteous man. The book shows how a conservative, priestly Jew about 150 B.C. viewed the world.

The Psalms of Solomon are a collection of eighteen psalms written about 50 B.C. They reflect the situation of the people in Jerusalem following its capture by the Romans under Pompey in 63 B.C. Psalms of Solomon 17 and 18 are of special importance because of their references to the Messiah. According to these Psalms, the Messiah was to be a human figure, a descendant of David, wise and righteous, and without sin. The titles Son of David and Lord Messiah are used of Him.

Third Maccabees, written after 200 B.C., has nothing to do with the Maccabees. It tells about the attempt of Ptolemy IV to kill the Jews in Egypt. God foiled his efforts resulting in the advancement of the Jews. This book shows the vindication of the righteous.

Fourth Maccabees is based to some extent upon material found in 2 Maccabees 6-7. It is a philosophical writing, stressing that pious reason can be the master of the passions. Reason is derived from obedience to the law. In the account of the seven sons who are martyred, the author greatly expanded the account but left out all references to resurrection. The book comes from the shortly after A.D. 1.

The Life of Adam and Eve has been preserved in both Latin and Greek. The two versions are different in length and content. Blame for the fall is placed upon Eve. Sin entered human experience through her. This writing refers to Satan being transformed into the brightness of angels (9:1; see 2 Cor. 11:14), and states that paradise is in the third heaven (compare 2 Cor. 12:2-3). The Life of Adam and Eve was written after 1 A.D.

The Letter of Aristeas was composed after 200 B.C., telling how the Old Testament law was translated into Greek. Actually, it is more concerned about the table conversation at banquets in Alexandria than it is about the translation of the Septuagint. It seeks to show that the Jewish law was in conformity with the highest ideals of Greek thought and life. It indicates that it is possible for Jew and Greek to live together in peace. So far as its account of the translation of the Law into Greek is concerned, its only historical validity is that it was at this time (during the reign of Ptolemy Philadelphus, 285-246 B.C.) that this translation was begun.

SOURCE: Holman Bible Dictionary; General Editor, David S. Dockery; Holman Bible Publishers; Nashville, Tennessee.

 

ADDITIONAL BACKGROUND READING:

The Lamb in Revelation

By Rodney Reeves

Rodney Reeves is dean of The Courts Redford College of Theology and Church Vocations of Southwest Baptist University, Bolivar, Missouri.

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HEN CHRISTIANS SING ABOUT JESUS as the “Lamb of God,” most of us probably have a cuddly character in mind.  The mental images that are conjured up through the word association of a lamb and Jesus seem to fit beautifully: meek, mild, soft, endearing, innocent, sweet, and lovable.  The problem, of course, is that the Lamb John saw in his vision does not look anything like what we envision during worship.  Indeed, the first thing John noticed about the Lamb who is worthy of praise is that He was a bloody mess; John described the sacrificial lamb as “slaughtered” yet still standing (Rev. 5:6, HCSB).  Furthermore, this Lamb looked more like a mutated ram, with seven eyes and seven horns, than the familiar “little lamb” with its soft, white wool.  Yet, the Greek word John used when referring to the Lamb was not “ram” (krios) but the diminutive form of the word for sheep (arnion), which means “little lamb.”  In other words, John seems to be giving his readers a mixed message about the Lamb he described: slaughtered yet standing, mighty as a ram but vulnerable as a “little lamb.”  Adding to the possible confusion, the Lamb was introduced to John with the proclamation: “behold, the Lion that is from the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has overcome so as to open the book and its seven seals” (v. 5).1  John heard one thing but saw something else.  He heard about the Lion of Judah then saw a slaughtered Lamb.  He was told that the Root of David (a familiar messianic title, Isa. 11:1) will carry out God’s will on earth; but then John watched a scary, seven-eyed, seven-horned-creature take the sealed book from God’s right hand (Rev. 5:6-7).  Indeed, this apocalyptic Lamb is a peculiarly strange-looking character that cannot be taken at face value.  He must be interpreted.

Quite apparently, the Lamb John saw is an apocalyptic version of Jesus Christ.  Not only do we have the familiar messianic imagery associated with Him—Lion of Judah, Root of David—the Lamb originates from the middle of God’s throne and is worthy of worship: “To Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb” (v. 13).  Those around the throne proclaimed concerning Him, “You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation.  You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth” (vv.9-10)—obvious references to Christ’s atoning work and the ministry of His church.  Although the Book of Revelation pictures Jesus as a mighty King at the beginning (1:13-16) and a conquering Hero at the end (19:11-21), the dominant image of Christ throughout the Apocalypse is the Lamb (5:6—6:17; 7:9-17; 12:11; 13:8; 14:1-10; 15:3; 17:14; 21:9—22:3).  Why is this the case, especially since referring to Jesus as a Lamb was not common?  Only a few places appear in the New Testament (John 1:29,36; Acts 8:32; 1 Cor. 5:7; 1 Pet. 1:19).  Besides, what kind of Lamb is this?  Jews in their religious practices used lambs for several different purposes.  Do any of the Old Testament sacrificial lambs help us understand the significance of the Lamb of Revelation?

Associating Jesus with the paschal lamb probably makes the most sense to us.  Not only do we have references and allusions that Paul and John made to Jesus as the Passover lamb (John 19:36; 1 Cor. 5:7), but Exodus imagery appears in the Revelation (Rev. 15:1—16:21); and the emphasis of the blood of the Lamb recalls in importance of the Passover ritual (1:5; 5:9; 7:14; 12:11; 19:13).  But, the Passover lamb did not atone for sin.  Rather, goats were required on the Day of Atonement (Lev. 16:5-10).  Therefore, when the Baptizer said, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29), he seemed to be blending two Jewish rituals (Passover and the Day of Atonement) into one Person.  The same could be said about the apocalyptic Lamb; Jesus appears as the paschal Lamb that atones for sin.  Yet, other sacrificial lambs might qualify as well: (1) lambs required for purification were called “sin offerings” (Lev. 4—6; 12—15) that “made atonement” for the unclean (12:7; 14:19-20; Rev. 7:14); (2) the lamb prescribed as a burnt offering along with the first fruits (Lev. 23:12; Rev. 14:4); (3) the daily burnt offering of lambs, marking the beginning and the end of the day, so the Lord would dwell among the sons of Israel (Ex. 29:38-46; Rev. 21:22—22:5).2  In other words, no single Jewish ritual explains the significance of the apocalyptic Lamb.  Rather, the Lamb of Revelation seems to be a composite made up of several Jewish images—not only sacrificial lambs but also battering rams.  Remember: the apocalyptic Lamb appears also as a might ram with seven horns.  Where do we find the picture of such a powerful, ruling lamb or ram in the Old Testament?  The Old Testament contains no such picture.  The Hebrew Scriptures never symbolize the Messiah as a mighty ram.

A couple of places in Jewish literature that may have been written before or after John’s day depict the hero of Israel as a mighty ram.  First Enoch 89:41-50 describes a sheep that turns into a ram and leads the rest of the sheep of God’s pasture (Israel) into a safe tower, having overcome their enemies.  Those texts depict Israel’s enemies as an adversarial ram (meaning a false messiah), dogs, foxes, and wild boars (meaning Gentile nations).3  A more intriguing reference appears in “The Testament of Joseph” (part of The Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs).  It describes Joseph as seeing a virgin give birth to a “spotless lamb” whom wild animals then attacked.  Then “the lamb conquered them, and destroyed them, trampling them underfoot.”4  These passages actually provide none of the background for the Lamb of the Revelation.  The Testament of Joseph was most probably written long after John’s Revelation and was probably influenced by John’s vision.  And, although some date 1 Enoch as early as 100 BC, and even if John was familiar with it (which is debatable), the passage from chapter 89 is an apocalyptic version of the Maccabean revolt (167-142 BC) and not the messianic age.5  Besides, these apocalyptic lambs or rams were not sacrificed.  Rather, they used force to overcome the enemy.

Therefore, the most likely explanation for the unique combination of these two symbols—vulnerable, sacrificial lamb and mighty, ruling ram—is the resurrected Jesus Christ.  That is why the Lamb appears “standing, as if slain” and is, therefore, worthy to open the sealed scroll of God’s judgment on the earth (Rev. 5:6,9).  He is worshiped as a living sacrifice—“[He] who was dead, and has come to life” (2:8)—establishing His kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.  Indeed, because He has conquered death, Christ reigns through His sacrificial death.  Having purchased men from “every tribe and tongue and people and nation” to reign with Him as they offer themselves as living sacrifices (5:9), Christ has made a kingdom of priests to “follow the Lamb wherever He goes” (14:4), bearing His cross as their only weapon, even to the end of the world.                                                                                                     

1.  Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Version (NASB).

2.  See the full discussion in Aune, Revelation 1—5, vol. 52 in Word Biblical Commentary (Waco: Word Books, 1997), 371-73.

3.  See the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, ed. Charlesworth, vol. 1 (New York: Doubleday, 1983), 67.

4.  The Testament of Joseph 19:8 in Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs in Charlesworth, Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, vol. 1, 824.

5.  See First Enoch 90:6-39; and L.L. Johns, The Lamb Christology of the Apocalypse of John: An Investigation into Its Origins and Rhetorical Force (Tubingen, Ger.: Mohr Siebeck, 2003), 80-97, who gives other reasons for questioning the influence of 1 Enoch 89.

SOURCE: Biblical Illustrator; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; Nashville, TN 37234; Spring 2015.

The Kingdom of God in Johns Writings

By Roger Sullivan

Roger Sullivan is pastor of the East Leesville Baptist Church, Leesville, Louisiana.

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HE PHRASES “KINGDOM OF GOD,” “kingdom of Heaven,” and simply “the kingdom,” all refer to the same thing.  When studying the New Testament, the importance of understanding the kingdom of God cannot be overestimated.  It permeated the religious thinking of the Jews.  The idea was central to and perhaps the primary teaching of Jesus.  The subject of one of Jesus’ earliest sermons was the coming of the kingdom of God (Mark 1:14-15).  The concept occurs throughout Matthew (kingdom of Heaven), Mark, and Luke.  In John, Jesus discussed the subject with Nicodemus (John 3:3,5) and with Pilate (18:36-37).

Though prominent in the Gospels, the exact phrase “kingdom of God” is not found in the Old Testament.1 The idea is present everywhere.  It is especially visible in passages where God is considered to be King (Num. 31:21; Deut. 33:5; 1 Kings 22:19; Isa. 6:5; Zech. 14:9).

God is not viewed as king in the sense that He is ruler over a geographical territory.  He is the sovereign King over all that exists.  In the Hebrew mind, God’s sovereignty as King was unchallenged and unlimited (Pss. 103:19; 145:13).  The doctrine of His absolute rule binds the whole Bible together.

In the Old Testament, hope for the kingdom of God was proclaimed.  In the New Testament, the kingdom came.  The Old Testament alone is an incomplete testament as far as the kingdom of God is concerned.

The Jewish people saw God work throughout their history.  With great pride they claimed to be His people.  They believed that He would bring His kingdom on and through them.  Throughout their existence they held to that hope.

Over and over they failed in their own efforts to be what God wanted them to be.  They fell into sin and rebelled against God.  Then the unexpected happened.  As predicted by the prophets, the nation was destroyed: First Samaria fell at the hands of the Assyrians (722 BC ); and later Jerusalem, at the hands of the Babylonians (587 BC ).  Captives were taken away into exile.  The country was left in ruins along with the identity and hopes of the people.

As they watched their nation crumble, Yahweh no longer appeared to be King and absolute Ruler.  He was perceived as an all-powerful God; yet the forces of evil appeared to triumph.  Nations that did not worship Yahweh proved to be capable adversaries, even conquerors.

For years, Israel longed for the kingdom of God.  The people hoped for a return to the proud days of David when they were a political and military world power.  In the fifth century, King Cyrus of Babylon decreed that the Jews could return to Jerusalem (Ezra 6:3-5).  Led by Nehemiah and Ezra, about 50,000 of the exiles made the journey home.  Adversity was great, but hopes were renewed.

Many historical events affected them, especially the conquests of Alexander the Great.  After his death, the Jews eventually became subject to the Syrians.  The worst of their rulers was Antiochus IV.  During his rule, the Jews of Palestine almost were destroyed.

One particular event at this time contributed greatly to hopes for the kingdom of God.  The Jews, led by the Maccabees, revolted and gained independence.  The country was reclaimed and the temple cleansed (164 BC ).  The event continues to be celebrated today as Hanukkah, the “Feast of Dedication or Lights.”  Still, hope for the coming kingdom was preserved.  From those early years through the life of Christ, ideas of the kingdom of God were shaped and reshaped.

A popular medium of communicating this hope was a type of literature called apocalyptic.  Written with symbolism and imagery, it promised victory to God’s people in spite of an apparently hopeless situation.  For approximately two hundred years before Jesus’ birth, and one hundred years after, this literature flourished.  It was a great influence on the Jews of the New Testament era.

Rooted in the Old Testament, a recurring theme of apocalyptic literature was the coming Messiah.  The Messiah would initiate the new era.  Nathan had spoken of a continuation of David’s line (2 Sam. 7:12-16; Ps. 89).  From David, God would raise up a righteous branch (Jer. 23:5; 33:15; Zech. 3:8; 6:2).  The kingdom of God and the hope for the Messiah were bound together inextricably.  The common belief was that God would send His Messiah and triumph over all His adversaries (to the Jews, their enemies were God’s enemies).  The triumph would be absolute.  From then on and forever, peace and harmony would characterize the kingdom of God both on earth and in heaven.

Freedom for the Jews was brief.  In 63 BC the Romans under Pompey became their new conquerors.  Hopes for the Messiah, however, continued into the New Testament period and beyond.2  Views of exactly how God would bring His kingdom varied during this time.  For example, the Zealots envisioned restoration and freedom coming by way of the sword.  They gladly would have followed a militant messiah who could multiply bread, heal the wounded, and raise the dead to life.  Even mighty Rome could not have stood against such a leader.

That was not the nature of the kingdom of God brought by Jesus.  He insisted on a kingdom of peace, and suffering was to be necessary for that peace to come.  In the end, persons expecting a Messiah who would lead the people against their oppressors realized that Jesus did not conform to their expectations.

Still others imagined “one like the Son of man” coming on the clouds (see Dan. 7:9-14).  They believed he could summon angels from heaven to destroy those opposed to the ways of Yahweh.  All their hopes would be fulfilled in that messianic figure.

Jesus was victorious, but not as these expected.  His victory came by the hand of the Father after sacrifice and death.  Such a plan was never envisioned by those influenced by apocalyptic expectations.

The Pharisees expected the kingdom of God to come with strict adherence to the Law.3  They dreamed of a kingdom of priests and a holy nation (Ex. 19:6).  The Messiah was to be “the Son of David,” a new Moses, or even a resurrected Moses.4  In Deuteronomy 18:15-19, “a Prophet” is mentioned, one like Moses who would lead them to righteousness.  Some believed that Jesus could be that prophet (John 6:14; 7:40).

In one sense Jesus appeared to be and was the new Moses.  He knew the law as none other.  The ethic He taught was not new or contrary to the law of Moses.  For the most part, it was the same.  He did not try to teach a loftier notion of God.  Such beliefs were firmly in place.

Jesus tried to show His people that God had acted, that the kingdom had come.  However, the kingdom had not come as they expected it would.  He did not equate righteousness with keeping rules and unreasonable regulations.  He took great freedoms with the law that to many were intolerable.  The laws of the Sabbath were not observed strictly (Matt. 12:1-14; Mark 2:23-28); guidelines for ceremonial cleanliness seemed unimportant to Him (Mark 7:1-15; Luke 11:37-41); He even dined with sinners (Luke 19:1-10).

For the new Moses, righteousness was related to total commitment to God’s will.  He, in fact, summarized all the laws into two commandments: Love God, and love others, God’s perfect will for all humans.  Jesus did not abolish the law, but He took great liberties within the stilted system of legalism. 

In the midst of all the speculation about how the kingdom would come, Jesus moved forward saying it had arrived.  It came with Him, supported and proven by His words and deeds.5  Nicodemus (and most of the others) was confused.  No Jew envisioned a Messiah like Jesus, especially a suffering one (1 Cor. 1:23).  His life and teaching did not fit their expectations of the coming Son of David.  Because of these misunderstandings, Jesus avoided referring to Himself as “Messiah.”  His favorite title was Son of man.

To people like Nicodemus, birth as an Israelite and keeping the law were the guarantees of being a member of the kingdom.  It was part of their inheritance as children of Abraham.  According to John’s Gospel, Jesus said that entrance into the kingdom of God must be preceded by a new birth, a spiritual birth initiated by the Father (John 3:3,5).  In truth, however, Jesus was not acceptable as Messiah to those who were not themselves children of God (John 8:47).

Nicodemus was the best that the Jewish legal system could produce.  He was a Pharisee, a strict adherent of the law.  Nicodemus probably was wealthy, to the Jews a sign of divine favor.  As a leader of the Jews, he had the respect and admiration of his fellowmen.  But as good as his attributes were, they were not enough for Nicodemus to see or enter the kingdom of God.

Nicodemus seemed to have everything a person could desire for good living; but something was missing, and he realized it.  He came to Jesus searching for answers.  This leader of the Jews needed a spiritual birth, a new birth from above.  Jesus was telling Nicodemus that life is lived on two levels: flesh and spirit.  And on each of the levels, like produces like.  Nicodemus was begotten by deeds of the flesh.  And deeds of the flesh were all that he could produce without being reborn of the Spirit of God.

As the end of John’s Gospel we see that Jesus also tried to help Pilate understand that life is lived on the levels of flesh and spirit (John 18:28—19:15).  Like the Jews, he was concerned with earthly kingdoms and political power.  Pilate worried about how Caesar would judge his decision concerning an innocent Galilean accused of treason.  He should have been concerned with how God would judge his decision concerning the Son of God.  Unlike Nicodemus, Pilate was unwilling to search for truth, to see a “kingdom not of this world” but absolutely essential for having abundant life.

When Jesus spoke of the kingdom of God, He was indicating that the time, long proclaimed by His prophets, and hoped for by His people, had indeed begun.  The good news was that God had brought the kingdom through His Son.  It was God’s gift.

The affirmation, and indeed the central message, of the New Testament is that Jesus of Nazareth is the long-awaited Messiah of Israel, the One who give us birth into the kingdom of God.  Every person could enter the kingdom and be a participant if he or she was born of God.

Birth into the kingdom was an option for both Nicodemus and Pilate.  It is an option for every person.  “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3, NASB).                                                                                           

1.  See later Jewish literature such as the Books of Enoch, Baruch, the Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs, IV Ezra, and the Psalms of Solomon.

2.  After Jesus’ death and resurrection, others claimed to be the Messiah and even were proclaimed as such by the religious leaders.  Some are mentioned in Acts 5:36-37 and 21:38.

3.  Perhaps none of the Jews suffered more than the Pharisees during the time of Hasmoneans ruled Palestine (about 128-63 BC ) and later under the Romans.  More than any other group they longed for the coming of the kingdom of God.  Nicodemus, one of the Pharisees, no doubt held to this hope with great passion.

4.  The concept of the Messiah being a new Moses is especiall important to understanding John 6.

5.  C.H. Dodd, The Apostolic Preaching and Its Developments (New York: Willett, Clark and Co., 1937), 36.

SOURCE: Biblical Illustrator; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; Nashville, TN 37234; Winter 1993.

ALL Authority  A Word Study

By Jimmy W. Dukes

Jimmy W. Dukes is dean of the Extension Center System and professor of New Testament and Greek, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, New Orleans, Louisiana.

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XOUSIA is one of several words the Greek New Testament uses to describe “authority” or “power.”  The meaning of exousia is varied.  The word can refer to authority to do something, including the right or freedom for an action; the ability or power to act; or the authority of God, men, or governments to act.  The word also has other uses in the New Testament.1 The word from which exousia is derived, exesti, means “it is proper, permitted, lawful; it is possible.”2 The origin of the word suggests exousia refers to derived, or even delegated power or authority.  While this meaning is not always clear, it is an important concept for the word in the New Testament.

In Greek usage prior to the first century, exousia indicated power granted by a higher authority, thus authority or permission to act.  An example would be the use of the word in wills.  One had authority under the law to convey his or her property to another according to choice.  Josephus, Philo, and the translators of the Septuagint, which is the Greek translation of the Old Testament, illustrated Jewish usage of exousia prior to the first century.  In all three early Jewish Greek sources the word referred to freedom to act under permission of another.  However, all three also used the word to describe the absolute power of God or the king, bringing the term to describe “inherent power.”  That dual usage continues in the New Testament, where god is presented as the One having power and the One granting authority to others as He works our His will.3

God’s possession and delegation of ultimate authority is implied in many passages of the New Testament.  Three passages in John make a clear statement of God’s role as the Giver of authority.  In John 5:26-27, we are told that God, who has life in Himself, has given life to the Son.  Also “He gave authority to Him to make judgment, because He is the Son of Man.”4 The quote from Jesus gives a strong witness to the fact God is the Source of authority.  He gives authority to others, even the Son.  In His prayer to the Father in John 17:1-2, Jesus said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son, in order that the Son may glorify You, just as You gave Him authority over all flesh, in order that He may give eternal life to every one You have given to Him.”  Again, the authority belongs to the Son, but it came from the Father.  In John 19:11, after Pilate’s claim that he had authority over Jesus during His trial before the governor, Jesus replied, “You do not have one bit of authority concerning me except that which has been given to you from above.”  We find in many other texts that same affirmation that God is the Source of authority.5

While the Father is the Source of the authority, the New Testament is clear that He is also the one who gave Jesus His authority.  The people who heard Christ teach recognized His authority (Matt. 7:29; Mark 1:22; Luke 4:32,36).  His power to heal people and to cast out demons were demonstrations of His authority (Matt. 8:9; Mark 1:27; 3:15; 6:7; Luke 9:1).  The Jewish leaders recognized His authority and questioned its source (Mark 11:27-33 and parallels).  Jesus put them to the test with a question of His own, but He would not give them the source of His authority.  In addition, Jesus Himself spoke about the source of His authority in two passages recorded in John’s Gospel.  In John 5:27, mentioned above, Jesus recognized His authority to make judgments came from the Father.  In John 10:1-18, Jesus discussed His role as the Good Shepherd.  He said even as He knows His sheep and they know Him, He also knows and is known by the Father.  The Father loves Him because He is committed to laying down His life and taking it up again.  He alone has the authority to do that.  He said, “No one takes it [My life] from Me, but I Myself put it from Me.  I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority again to take it; I received this commandment from My Father” (v. 18).

Jesus, who received authority from the Father, also gave authority to men.  Because He was preparing His disciples to carry on His ministry in the world, He gave them authority to heal and to cast out demons (Matt. 10:1; Mark 3:15; 6:7).  In Luke 9:1, the text says Jesus gave to His disciples both dunamis (inherent power that came from their relationship with Him) and exousia (His authority transmitted to them) to equip them for the work of healing the sick and casting out demons.  In Luke 10:19, Jesus again used both dunamis and exousia, but this time giving authority to the disciples to equip them to face the “power of the enemy.”  Equipping His disciples in this way illustrated that Jesus’ authority was over even the power of the enemy.

Paul received authority from the chief priests in Jerusalem to persecute the believers in Damascus, according to the prayer of Ananias in Acts 9:14 and Paul’s own testimony in Acts 26:10-12.  He also had authority as an apostle.  As the chief priests had delegated his earlier authority, Paul’s authority as an apostle was from Jesus (2 Cor. 10:8; 13:10).  As he dealt with the problems of the church in Corinth, he cited his authority on numerous occasions.  In defense of his apostleship, Paul used the word “authority” several times in 1 Corinthians 9:1-18.6

Many other passages offer examples of authority received or exercised However, four passages affirm Jesus received “all” authority from God, equipping Him to give authority to others.  First, in 1 Corinthians 15:20-28, Paul described the resurrected Christ who won the victory.  Christ’s victory will be ultimately demonstrated when “He hands over the kingdom to the God and Father, when He has abolished all rule and all authority and power.”  Paul went on to say that the consummation of Christ’s work will occur when at His second coming, Christ, the Son of God, subjects Himself to God the Father, the One giving Him His authority.  Second, in Ephesians 1:18-23, Paul prayed that the Ephesian believers would understand the power and authority given to the resurrected Christ.  In a strong statement, Paul used about every word he could use to describe power and authority, including exousia.  He said all authority and power had been granted to Jesus, whom God “gave as head over all the church.”  Then third, in 1 Peter 3:21-22, Peter spoke of the saving power of the resurrected Jesus, who now has had “angels and authorities and powers” subjected to Him.  Finally, in Matthew 28:16-20, Jesus came to meet His eleven disciples who had come to the mountain in Galilee as He had instructed.  He commissioned them to carry out His work of making disciples.  Jesus made clear His authority to commission them and to equip them with His assertion that “all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me.”  That claim by Jesus is consistent with the understanding of the writers of the New Testament who believed and understood Jesus was (and is) God who came near to people to make it possible for them to know and have a relationship with God.

As the incarnate Son of God, Jesus received authority from God to accomplish the work for which He had been sent.  As the resurrected Lord, Christ was given “all authority” to fulfill God’s purpose and to pass on His authority to His followers so they could finish His work.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     

1.  Barclay Newman, Jr., A Concise Greek-English Dictionary of the New Testament (Stuttgart: German Bible Societies, 1993), 65; in Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, trans. William F. Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich, 2nd ed., rev. F. Wilbur Gingrich and Frederick W. Danker (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979), 277-79.

2.  Newman, 64.

3.  Werner Foerster, in Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, ed. Gerhard Kittel, trans. and ed. Geoffrey W. Bromiley, vol. 2 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1964), 564-66.

4.  All Scripture quotations are the writer’s translations.

5.  See John 1:12; Romans 13:1-3; Luke 12:5; Acts 1:7; 1 Corinthians 15:24; Jude 25.

6.  Of the six uses of the Greek term in these verses, the HCSB translates three as “right” (vv. 4,5,6) and three as “authority” (vv. 12,18).

7.  See the examples in Matthew 8:9; Mark 13:34; Luke 12:11; 19:17; 20:20; 22:53; Acts 5:4.

SOURCE: Biblical Illustrator; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; Nashville, TN 37234; Vol. 35, No. 1; Fall 2008.

MICHAEL In Jewish History

By Rick Byargeon

Rick Byargeon is assistant Professor of Old Testament and Hebrew, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, New Orleans, Louisiana.

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N DECEMBER 2, 1993, Yankelovich Partners Inc. conducted a poll for Time/CNN of 500 Americans concerning the subject of angels.  Sixty-nine percent of those polled believed in the existence of angels.1  The respondents to the poll affirmed the existence of angels, but so do the writers of the Old Testament.  There are numerous references to angels in the Old Testament and the New Testament.  Among the many references to angels in the Old Testament, Michael has a preeminent place.

The angel Michael appears in three passages within the Book of Daniel (10:13,21; 12:1).  What is unusual about these passages is that for the first time in Scripture, an angel has a proper name.  The name Michael means “Who is like God?”2  The meaning of the name seems clear, though there have been several suggestions as to its significance.  The rhetorical question that is inherent in the name Michael may show the angel’s humility since no one is like God.  Others, however, suggest that the name implies that God has given him the power to carry our His will.3  Perhaps one dies not need to choose between the two options, but see both ideas present in the name of Michael.  Michael seeks to affirm God’s uniqueness.

The task of honoring God through service to His will becomes the primary task performed by Michael in the Book of Daniel.  However, before we consider Michael’s role, we must understand the type of literature found in the Book of Daniel.  Much of Daniel is apocalyptic literature.  This type of literature was extremely popular during periods when God’s people were under attack.  During those times of tribulation, God communicated His plan for the present and future to His people by visions and angels.  According to apocalyptic literature, God’s plan is to invade human history to save the righteous and punish the wicked.4  Therefore, one can see why this material was popular during Daniel’s time when Israel was in exile in Babylon and felt defenseless.  In times of trouble, the apocalyptic writers communicated one essential idea: Israel’s destiny was in God’s hands.  This viewpoint will help one understand Michael’s role in the Book of Daniel. 

Michael appears in the Book of Daniel in chapters 10 and 12.  This section of Daniel affirms the truth that God will fight for His people, will bring about the consummation of the age, and will assure the resurrection of the dead (Dan. 12:2-3).  These actions by God provide His people with the ability to face suffering and even death (Dan. 11:30-35; 12:1).  In light of God’s concern, it is significant that Michael is the instrument God uses to communicate His care over Israel.

Michael’s title in the Book of Daniel reflects the role he is sent to fulfill.  In Daniel 10:13 the words “chief prince” (NASB) describe Michael and his role.  The Hebrew word for “prince” is sar.  This is a word often associated with angelic beings.  It describes the one who confronted Joshua outside Jericho (Josh. 5:14), as well as the “Prince of Light” and the “Angel of Darkness” at Qumran.5  The term indicates that Michael is the guardian of Israel.  For the Jew in exile, this meant that human history is under the lordship of God, not people.  Such knowledge provided a perspective that enabled the faithful Jews to bear up under persecution.6  God fights for His people through the angelic guardians.  In addition, these texts in Daniel indicate other nations experience influence form supernatural beings. Daniel 10:13,21 speaks of the princes (angels) of Persia and Greece.  Therefore, the texts suggest that angelic beings, both good and evil, influence the affairs of nations and human history and not simply individuals’ decisions.7

Though Michael makes only a brief appearance in the Old Testament, interest in his role (as well as in angels in general) continued among the Jews.  The first indication of an increased interest in angels comes in later Jewish writings that propose a military-like organization of angels.  In the writings of the Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha, a hierarchy of angels that vary in number from seven (Tobit 12:15), to four (1 Enoch 40), to three (1 Enoch 90:31) rules over the vast multitudes of lower class angels.  These ruling angels are the “holy angels” who have access to the presence of God (1 Enoch 71:1-10).  Some scholars believe Michael is not only a part of this group, but is “the angel of presence” referred to in Jubilees 1:27-29; 2:1.  The title may indicate his preeminence among the others.  In addition, 1 Enoch 71:3 refers to these angels and Michael as “archangels.”  Here Michael is said to be righteous.

Michael’s function as an archangel involves being the commander of all the other classes of angels, which are portrayed as God’s army (3 Baruch 11:4ff).  This seems to be an extension of his role from the Book of Daniel.  Michael’s portrayal as the protector of Israel reflects the “warrior” and “general” idea (Testament of Moses 10:2).  The same emphasis is made in the War Scroll at Qumran where Michael fights as a “Prince of Light” against the “Prince of darkness,” Belial.8  Finally one finds the same perspective in Daniel 10:13,21.  Daniel fights against the angelic patrons of Persia and Greece on behalf of Israel.

Michael not only intercedes on behalf of Israel as their defender, but also as an intercessor.  Many passages in the Old Testament reflect the belief that the angels intercede on behalf of humanity (Job 5:1; 33:23; Zech. 1:12).  The writers of the Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha developed this idea.  Tobit and Enoch spoke of angelic intercession on behalf of people (Tob. 12:12-15; 1 Enoch 9:3-11; 47:2).  Indeed, 1 Enoch 15:2 states: “It is meet (for you) that you intercede on behalf of man, and not man on your behalf.”  This text implies that it was a given that angels would intercede for people.  The issues for which the angels interceded on human behalf include: sickness, pain, tribulations, and the sins of the righteous.9  Michael’s role as intercessor did not differ substantially from what angels do in general.  The writers of the Pseudepigrapha portrayed Michael interceding for the people of Israel in the midst of their trial (1 Enoch 89:76), for Israel’s victory over its enemies (Testament of Levi 5:6-7), and for Israel’s peace (Testament of Dan 6:2).

In the context of interceding for peace, one finds Michael linked with the angelic being known as the ”angel of peace.”  While Michael is distinct from the “angel of peace” in 1 Enoch, there is a possible blending of the two in the Testament of Dan 6:2-5.  If this is the case, then seeking peace for Israel is one of Michael’s goals.  However, that is not the ultimate goal of Michael’s intercession.  The conclusion of Michael’s ministry of intercession is bringing the righteous to heaven (4 Baruch 9:5).  This certainly fits the description of Michael in 1 Enoch 40:9 as being “merciful and forbearing.”

It is good that Michael is “merciful and forbearing” since the next task that Michael performs, according to later Judaism, is the keeping of the heavenly books.  This view finds support in Daniel 12:1, which indicates that Michael will rescue those whose names are found “written in the book” of tribulation.  Therefore, the portrayal of Michael’s writing the names and deeds of the righteous in the heavenly books is a development of a biblical theme (Martyrdom and Ascension of Isaiah 9:19-23).  This role may also explain why Michael mediates the law of God to Moses (Jubilees 1:27—2:1).

Michael’s final task relates to the culmination of the ages.  While the imagery of this day varies within the Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha, the emphasis is on a time when God will punish fallen angels and sinful humanity.  Perhaps one of the more elaborate texts of this final judgment is found in 1 Enoch83—90.  Enoch had a dream that shows how the ages will end.  In his dream, there is an abundance of symbolic imagery.  For example, the faithful Israelites are symbolized as sheep, and the blind sheep are apostate Jews.  In the dream sequences, Enoch witnesses God giving control of the sheep (Israel) to seventy shepherds (angelic beings), who rebel against God and slaughter the sheep.  These shepherds are then judged by God.  Michael’s task is to throw the seventy shepherds, as well as the unfaithful Jews, “into an abyss, full of fire and flame” (1 Enoch 90:22-27).  Afterwards, God then builds a new Temple for the sheep, the birds and beasts that remain are converted, the dispersed sheep are gathered together, and the slain sheep are raised to life again to share in the messianic kingdom.

The date of this passage is likely 165-163 BC, during the time of the Maccabean revolt against Antiochus Epiphanes IV.  During the dark days of Greek persecution, the writer suggests that God will not allow His people to suffer forever, but one day will bring evil to an end.

Other images of the end times occur in the book of 1 Enoch.  Michael along with the other archangels throw Satan and his armies into the flames (1 Enoch 54:6).  This same imagery also persists when Michael locks up Semyaza (Perhaps a demonic prince) in the abyss because of his sinful conduct with human women in Genesis 6:1-4 (1 Enoch 10:11-14).  Therefore, God uses Michael as an instrument of judgment against sinful people and angels.  As one reflects on the various roles of Michael in the intertestamental literature and beyond, obviously the writers of the Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha expanded on the biblical evidence.

What would have caused such an intense interest in the role of angels in general and Michael in particular?  Perhaps the answer to that question can be found in the Jew’s developing perception of God.  The Jewish people always had a high appreciation of God’s distinctiveness and transcendence.  With the  development of this view, the Jews understood angels as mediums of God’s will and work in the world.  If so, then the Christians of the first century had much to rejoice about.  For they did not understand God as remote, but present among them through His incarnate Son, Jesus of Nazareth.  While angels played a significant role in the events of the New Testament, they are secondary in their nature and work to the preeminent Son of God (Heb. 1).

1.  N. Gibbs, “Angels Among Us,” Time, 27 December 1993, 56.

2.  F. Brown, S.R. Driver, and C.A. Briggs, A Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament (London: Oxford Univ. Press, 1962), 567.

3.  C.F. Keil, Biblical Commentary on the Book of Daniel, trans. M.G. Easton (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1971), 417-18.

4.  G.E. Ladd, “Apocalyptic Literature,” in The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, vol. 1. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1979), 153.

5.  J. Gutmann, “Angels and Angelology: Apocrypha,” in Encyclopedia Judaica, vol. 2 (Jerusalem: Keter Pub. House. Ltd., 1971), 962.

6.  J.J. Collins, “Apocalypses and Apocalypticism: Early Jewish Apocalypticism,” in The Anchor Bible Dictionary, vol. 1 (New York: Doubleday, 1992), 283.

7.  Keil, 415-17.

8.  D.S. Russell, The Method and Message of Jewish Apocalyptic: 200 BC—AD 100 (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1964), 45.

9.  Tobit 12:15; 1 Enoch 9:10; 47:2; 99:3,16; Testament of Levi 3:5.

SOURCE: Biblical Illustrator; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; Nashville, TN 37234; Summer, 1995.

 

BIBLE CHARACTER TRIVIA

 

(01, 405)  What is the Answer To & Where in The Bible is This Week’s Trivia Question Found:  Who had a huge bed made of iron?  Answer Next Week:  

Last Week’s Question: What prophet condemned the idle rich on their beds of ivory?  Answer:  Amos, 6:4.