REVELATION’S SCROLL: GOD’S DIVORCE DECREE

PMT 2013-045 by Ken Gentry

Seven sealed scrollThe seven-sealed scroll in Revelation 5 seems to represent a “certificate of divorce” handed down against Israel by the enthroned Judge who was seen in Revelation 4. In Scripture marriages are based on a covenant contract, so that in biblical days the Jews wrote out divorce decrees (Dt 24:1, 3; Isa 50:1; Jer 3:8; Mt 5:31; 19:7; Mk 10:4). The following evidence suggests that the scroll in Revelation 6 is a bill of divorce (a deeper reading of Revelation strongly compels such a conclusion).

First, Revelation emphasizes two particular women, who obviously correspond to one another as opposites, as positive and negative images: the wicked harlot (Rev 17–18) and the pure bride of Christ (Rev 21). They correspond to the earthly Jerusalem, the place of Christ’s crucifixion (Rev 11:8), and the heavenly Jerusalem, which is holy (Rev 21:10), as I will show in a later email.

Revelation’s drama presents the revelation and execution of the legal (Rev 15:3; 16:5–7) judgment on the fornicating harlot (Rev 17:1–19:3) and the coming of a virginal bride (Rev 21). This bride take’s the harlot’s place after a marriage supper (Rev 19:7, 9). Philip Carrington explains: “The Harlot has disappeared, the Bride is taking her place. It is impossible any longer to maintain that the Harlot means Rome; the antithesis must lie between the old Israel and the new, the false Israel and the true, the Israel that is to appear so soon as the New Jerusalem” (Carrington, The Meaning of the Revelation, 294.)


Navigating the Book of Revelation (by Ken Gentry)
Technical studies on key issues in Revelation, including the seven-sealed scroll, the cast out temple, Jewish persecution of Christianity, the Babylonian Harlot, and more.


Second, the Old Testament background for this image derives from Ezekiel, John’s main source. [1]. Israel’s judgment appears in Ezekiel 2:9–10 as written on a scroll on the front and back. This corresponds perfectly with Revelation 5:1. In Ezekiel 2–9 the prophet outlines Jerusalem’s devastation, which corresponds with Revelation 6ff. In Ezekiel 16 the prophet presents Israel as God’s covenant wife, who becomes a harlot (see also Jer 3:1–8; Isa 50:1), while trusting in her beauty and committing fornication. This corresponds to John’s Jerusalem-Babylon image (Rev 18). As her jealous husband (Ex 20:5; 34:14; cp. Nu 5:14, 30), God casts Israel out and judges her for this evil conduct.

Third, following the “divorce” and the judgments flowing from it, John sees a new “bride” coming out of heaven (Rev 21–22). In Revelation’s drama, God does not take his new bride until he legally judges his current harlotrous wife. John himself presents the image of the harlot, bride, and marriage feast — we are not reading this into the text eisegetically. Thus, the divorce imagery fits the book’s dramatic flow.

The fornicating harlot’s judgment starts after the Lamb (Christ) receives the seven sealed scroll from God. God the Father turns over the judgment to Christ, who will open the scroll, thus having judgment authority committed to him (Rev 5:4–7; cp. Jn 5:22, 27; 9:39; Ac 10:42; 17:31). At his trial leading to his condemnation, Christ tells Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin that they shall see the “Son of Man coming with the clouds of heaven” (Mt 26:64). This fits well with Paul’s allegory in Galatians 4:21–31, wherein one wife is cast out (Hagar who represents the Jerusalem below) and another is taken (Sara who represents the Jerusalem above).

Recalling that Revelation’s theme is Christ judgment coming against the Jews who crucify him (Rev 1:7), we note that the leading image for Christ in Revelation is that of “the Lamb that was slain” (Rev 5:6, 12; 13:8; see also: Rev 5:8, 13; 6:1, 16; 7:9–10, 14, 17; 12:11; 14:1, 10; 15:3; 17:14; 19:7, 9; 21:9,14, 21; 22:1, 3). His blood gives victory to his people (Rev 1:5; 5:6–9; 7:14–16; 12:11; 15:2–3; 19:2; 21:9; 22:3).

Footnotes:

1. Ezekiel greatly influences Revelation, even providing the outline for it. See: Carrington, The Meaning of Revelation, 64.


Four Views on the Book of Revelation (ed. by Marvin Pate)
Helpful presentation of four approaches to Revelation. Ken Gentry provides  50 page commentary on Revelation.


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12 thoughts on “REVELATION’S SCROLL: GOD’S DIVORCE DECREE

  1. Vince December 28, 2013 at 12:03 am

    I am an ‘Optimistic’ A-Millennarian… that is one who is A-Mil with a ‘Post-Mil’ Hope…! Although I understand the Scriptural veracity to what you’re saying about Israel in this article, how do we reconcile Paul’s views of some type of restoration in Romans 11… Is there not a ‘Mystery’ surrounding them regarding a wholesale, or ‘National’ awakening concerning Jesus as Messiah…? I myself am not one who believes all ‘Eschatological Timing’ revolves around a piece of contemporary ‘Sand’ in the Middle East; but as one who is Reformed in Theology, I cannot believe that they have returned to that ‘Land’ without the Providence of a Sovereign God… They didn’t return after two thousand years of ‘The Diaspora’ without God’s involvement… To me, there’s a Mystery yet to be played out by them, and whatever it is, it is Designed by The Lord Himself…? Even The Puritans believed that God had a future Plan for Physical Israel… What say you Boither Ken…?

  2. Kenneth Gentry December 28, 2013 at 8:17 am

    As a postmillennialist I believe Israel will also be saved. And following John Murray’s exposition, I believe it will be en masse according to Rom 11. The divorce of Israel is an image of judgment. It speaks of the rejection of geo-political Israel as central to God’s kingdom, while ethnic Israel still has the biblical expectation of salvation.

  3. Vince December 28, 2013 at 6:10 pm

    Wow… The more I dialogue with you Bro… the more I see that we have in common… How cool is that… Too bad you’re so far away, I’d ask you come and Preach at our Church Home… That would be very cool…!

  4. Steve Crain February 4, 2014 at 8:14 am

    Dr. Gentry, I have long pondered the “elders” presented in Revelation 4 and 5. It has occurred to me that “elders” refers specifically to the members of the Sanhedrin. As the representatives of Israel, headed by the high priest, they passed judgment on Christ. Here the “elders” seem to signify the heavenly Sanhedrin who submit to the Great High Priest. The Jewish Sanhedrin brought false charges and false witnesses against Christ, but this court will judge righteously. The 24 elders seem to possibly signify and and verify the charges against Israel by having two witnesses from each tribe as required for the death penalty (Deuteronomy 17:6, 19:15). The penalty for adultery also being death (Leviticus 20:10). Is there any validity to this possibility?

  5. Kenneth Gentry February 4, 2014 at 9:43 am

    I like your thoughts. They are very close to mine. I believe these 24 elders represent the old covenant faithful who surround God’s throne in heaven as he exercises judgment upon unfaithful Israel in AD 70.

  6. Phil Ellery April 26, 2014 at 8:43 am

    Vince ,,, if you live in Oz here is where Ken will be in Aug 29
    http://www.daniel244.org/prog.html

  7. Neal McArthur July 5, 2016 at 6:32 am

    Could the scroll also represent the Old Covenant? The Old covenant was the covenant of marriage with Israel. And this is what Jesus came to remove.

    My thought is that the ten commandments were also written on both sides. And in Revelation it is the contract that is keeping God in covenant or veiled.
    And symbolically it is in his right hand and no one else can remove it. (The covenant cannot change without the shedding of blood-Jesus is the only one worthy to remove the covenant)

    Ezekiel says it has words of lamentation, mourning and woe- which is the fruit of the old covenant.

    I just wonder this because if it was the old covenant that Jesus came to remove and the wrath was connected to the Old covenant. And the one thing that kept God veiled was the Old covenant. It was the one thing that kept him married.

    Exodus 24:7 the covenant scroll also had writing on both sides.

  8. David Hillary June 21, 2017 at 5:25 am

    How does the dramatic flow of the text suggest a divorce and re-marriage of a different wife? Not to deny the contrast between the prostitute and the bride, but just trying to follow the specific motif of marriage and specific meaning of the scroll in question.

    The only actual divorce mentioned is of Israel, to be ended by remarriage of the same wife to the same husband (Hos 2; Jer 3:6-14; 31:31-32; Is 50:1; 49:8-18). The same wife is all Israel, i.e. both Judah and Israel Jer 3:18. And also the remnant, ‘one from a town, two from a clan’ (Jer 3:14).

    The book of Revelation seems to rely not on divorce but death at the hand of her lover, the judgement of Ez 16:39-40 comes upon the prostitute in Rev 17:16.

    If the scroll is a divorce certificate, why does it have seven seals?

    Was Hagar a true wife?

  9. Kenneth Gentry June 21, 2017 at 8:19 am

    Thanks for reading. And thinking through the issues.

    The full argument for the divorce imagery in Revelation is large and complex. I will develop it fully in my commentary. But regarding the “only actual divorce” of Israel in Scripture, please note:

    Revelation is the most OT-oriented book in the NT. Though “the only actual divorce mentioned” in Scripture is of Israel, John engages in a powerful allusive reference to OT images. He picks up on and reworks and re-applies those images. As G. K. Beale (Revelation, p. 92) notes: “John creatively reworks the OT and changes its application.” Paul Rainbow (The Pith of the Apocalypse, p. 57) notes that “John reworks it for a new setting” for he “is not so much appealing to an authoritative text . . . as quarrying it for evocative purposes.”

    Thus the OT Scriptures are “malleable in John’s hands”; John exercises “independence in their use” (L. Vos, Synoptic Tradition, p. 50). J. P. Ruiz (179) agrees that John uses the OT creatively by engaging in “a careful and profound transformation of prophetic language [which] is deeply rooted in the prophetic literature itself.” This is because his readers are not reading a commentary on the OT but “are reading John’s prophetic book” (Ezekiel in the Apocalypse, p. 526). “John does not present [his words] as interpretation of other prophetic texts but as his prophetic words which he has received from Jesus and from God” (Paul B. Decock , “The Scriptures in the Book of Revelation,” Neot, 1999: 400).

    His many allusions to the OT divorce passages suggest he is employing them in the background to explain how the harlot (also a frequent OT image for Israel) is replaced by the glorious bride, the new Israel which is founded on both the tribes of Israel and the apostles (Rev. 21:12-14). The new covenant passage you mention (Jer 31) is a foundational prophetic passage speaking of the church, for in the NT the Lord’s Supper refers to that passage, and the Lord’s Supper is a church sacrament.

    Israel functions in two different ways in Revelation. She is pictured as the corrupt harlot, and as the glorious bride. So she is transformed and reworked. But John does so by applying OT imagery regarding her divorce and remarriage as a restructured entity. In Revelation the new Israel is founded on both the ethnic tribes of Israel and the Christ-appointed apostles (Rev. 21:12-14). Thus Israel is both judged and transformed, both divorced and remarried. Eventually ethnic Israel will be brought into the church, the bride of Christ (Rom. 11:25).

    The divorce certificate has seven seals because seven is a recurring symbolic number in Revelation. In Rev 5 the scroll is so securely sealed (seven times!) that only the Lamb can open it (Rev. 5:3, 5).

    I am not sure why you mention Hagar, but probably because of Gal. 4? In Gen. 16:3 she is called Abraham’s wife, using the same Hebrew word that applies to Sarai.

  10. David Hillary June 21, 2017 at 3:47 pm

    Thanks for your kind consideration and reply!

    I am specifically asking about divorce because I am wanting to study that particular motif and work through its application, and to consider its meaning and application to divorce law under the New Covenant.

    In particular, I am looking at the typology of the civil law of Moses. I have developed fairly expensively and clearly the fulfillment of the civil law for the death penalty for murder in and at the fall of Jerusalem at the hands of Rome. And I develop that to mean that the death penalty for murder is fulfilled, abrogated, abolished and expired. The civil law of the New Covenant doesn’t appeal to or practice coercive remedies, including the ministry of death. Well that is the angle I am taking on it, in contrast with the Christian Reconstructionist position that the civil law of Moses including the death penalty for murder is still applicable. (Not sure your view on that!).

    I am looking to do the same thing with whether or how the civil law of divorce was ‘fulfilled’: at the divorce, or at the re-marriage, or do both happen at the same time? It gets confusing with Israel split into Israel and Judah, and Israel’s divorce and Judah’s lack of such divorce, so far as I can see. As with the death penalty, I am taking the angle that divorce under the New Covenant is prohibited, and that the Old Covenant divorce law, permitting divorce for cause (and allowing it with no cause and with financial compensation). Again, the Christian Reconstructionists would disagree and say we can divorce our wives for cause and remarry, and again, I am not sure your view on that either.

    But, when I study the issue, all I can see is the promise of reconciliation and remarriage. The divorce of Israel seems to be the Assyrian captivity, and Judah does not seem to be ever divorced, nor threatened with it, nor is any such pronouncement made in judgement of her in connection with the consummation or New Covenant or remarriage. The judgement threatened to Judah seems to be getting hacked to death by her lover. The other judgements include being cast out which is similar to divorce but I am not sure if that is the intended image or not. And yes, this is why I was asking about Hagar, the only case where the one cast out seemed to be a wife figure, or, as you point out, referred to as a wife.

    As for the scroll, the seven seals I have heard indicates a will. As far as I know, you are the only one claiming it is supposed to represent a divorce certificate. Can you comment on the will theory?

  11. David Hillary July 28, 2017 at 10:46 pm

    Dear Dr Gentry, I’m following up on my previous comment / question and have been re-reading your kind and detailed response.

    In summary, if I have understood correctly, you claim the sealed scroll is specifically a divorce certificate, and so not a generic last days judgement and list of woes. But you have no claim to find *any* evidence in the scroll description or details about its seals and the opening thereof etc. that suggest it is a divorce certificate. But, you claim a wealth of material and much wider context that *suggests* it means a divorce certificate:

    ‘His many allusions to the OT divorce passages suggest he is employing them’ [thus].

    In other words, you are looking at the general prophetic narrative (and symbolism) of Israel / Judah as unfaithful wives that turned to prostitution as teaching that the drama ends thus: Judah is divorced (or is it Israel re-divorced as well?) and then a new marriage ensues. The new marriage is with the restored and re-constituted Israel that is the church, and we have some tension between newness and virginity and continuity of identity as ‘Israel’ or ‘Israel and Judah’.

    And again, there is *nothing* in Rev 5 that supports your thesis at all. All the support has to come from elsewhere. So, although it would be a bit unfair to call it eisegesis, it can hardly qualify as exegesis. There is nothing wrong with attempting to fit a text or passage into a general framework, I guess we all do that, but it would be more satisfactory if we could study the text itself, its words and images etc. to develop what we can from it on its own terms.

    But when we look elsewhere, the narrative isn’t particularly clear: there is judgement, but is the last days judgement divorce, death or both? Israel was both divorced and put to death in Hosea, and promised resurrection and re-marriage.

    But the problem is there seems to be no OT prophetic texts that say, ‘in the last days, I will divorce Israel (or Judah) and give her a certificate of divorce and sent her out of my house, and she will not take her dowry and will not take any divorce compensation either.’ Nothing that says, ‘in the last days I will bring my case against you, O unfaithful wife, I shall present my charges of your adulteries and your whoring, and I shall write all your sins on your divorce certificate, on the front and the back, and I will seal it with seven seals, and I will open those seals on the day that I divorce you and send you out of my house.’

    The divorce motif implies it might not be the end, there might be a restoration, a new husband, or a life after divorce. The divorce of Israel was not the end, there was (or was to be) a re-marriage afterwards. The divorce is therefore not a ‘last days’ judgement, at least in that case.

    The alternative narrative is that the end of Israel, the last days judgement, is to cut off those of Israel who rejected the Christ, to destroy the institutional and political and ritual structure of the old Israel, and to end the life of that old wife by death, and to take to himself the new body, the new creation, the virgin Israel, as his wife, and to honour the betrothal with the wedding. No divorce in the picture.

    All things told, is there a case for the divorce idea for last days Israel or Judah, or just death and destruction and no divorce certificate in sight?

  12. Kenneth Gentry August 8, 2017 at 10:27 am

    Thanks for continuing to read my blog, think through the issues, and wrestle with the conclusions. Revelation is certainly not deemed a simple book by anyone what has actually studied it. It has been well said, “Where you find five commentaries on Revelation you will find six views.”

    You are correct that I see the seven-sealed scroll as a divorce certificate being issued against old covenant Israel. But since you do not define your “last days judgement” statement I am not sure what you mean. If you mean “the last days” of Israel, I would accept that. Though I suspect you do not because you speak of “generic last days judgement.”

    I very much disagree with the notion that the scroll deals with the judgments at the end of history in our future. Revelation (almost solely) confines itself to first century events (e.g., Rev. 1:1, 3; 22:6, 10; etc.) and focuses its judgments (almost entirely) on old covenant Israel in the first century (e.g., Rev. 11:1–2). Almost all of the judgment language in Revelation is drawn from the OT and especially from passages dealing with Israel’s judgment. And as many commentators recognize, the seven seals largely reflect the early portion of Christ’s Olivet Discourse, which itself is built on OT allusions and focuses on the temple’s first century destruction (Matt. 24:2, 16, 34)..

    As most Revelation commentators agree: (1) John is more OT-oriented than any other NT book, which fits well with the Jewish focus of Revelation’s judgment. (2) He alludes to more OT passages than any other NT book. (3) But he never directly cites any OT verse. His method is by allusion.

    Similarly to the divorce issue (which is a dramatic feature of a number of OT judgment passages), scholars find in Revelation a recurring exodus motif. Though this is not directly stated as such. Again, John’s method is allusive.

    We must also recognize that Revelation requires a full reading, and in fact a reading through several times. He often introduces a concept out of the blue, before explaining it later. For instance, In Rev. 2:28 he mentions “the morning star.” But it is not until 22:16 that he explains the “morning star.” In 11:7 he mentions the “beast,” but does not explain him until 13:1ff. In 14:8 he declares “Babylon is fallen,” but has not yet introduced “Babylon” (see 16:19; 17:5). In 19:7–9 he declares the bride ready, but does not introduce her until 21:1. Thus, it takes a full reading to get the full effect of his images.

    Many of the judgment allusions fit the OT imagery of divorce, with the husband’s sending his wife out of the house (in Revelation this is the casting out and destruction of the temple), withdrawing support for her (in Revelation this is the stripping of the harlot), and so forth. The language used of Israel’s judgments in the OT is used in some cases with an express reference to divorce. The idea of divorce involves a breach of covenant that results in the covenant judgment. This is what lies behind Revelation’s forensic drama.

    The flow of Revelation shows a focus on two women: a faithful bride and a wicked harlot. This harlot language often refers to Israel in the OT. In NT theology, the Israel that is judged is the Israel of the flesh (geo-political Israel) whereas the new “Israel of God” is the re-constituted Israel (spiritual Israel) which is Jew and Gentile merged into one body, thereby forming a “new creation.” This is the new bride that takes the place of the old bride.

    I highly recommend reading my book Navigating the Book of Revelation for fuller explanation. My forthcoming, two-volume commentary will explain a lot more.

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