PMT 2014-074 by Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr.
I recently received an inquiry regarding my preterist understanding of Rev 1:10. This verse reads: “I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like the sound of a trumpet.” The writer was wanting a little more argument for my view. I hold that John is speaking of “the Day of the Lord,” rather than “the Lord’s Day” (Sunday). In this and the following posts, I will engage the question. Let’s get started.
John tells us here that he was in the Spirit “on the Lord’s day” (1:10a). Most commentators see the Greek phrase kuriake hemera (“Lord’s day”) as referring to when John received his vision, i.e., on the first day of the week, the Christian day of worship. As the argument goes, quite early in Christian history the word kuriake (“Lord’s”) was used to refer to Sunday (e.g., Did. 14:1; Ignatius, Mag. 9:1; Gosp. Pet. 12:50; Clem. Alex., Strom. 17:12). And we see it with hemera (“day”) in Origen (Cel. 8:22) and Dionysius (cited in Eusebius, Eccl. Hist. 4:23:8).
But not all agree that this was John’s intent. Some commentators (a minority) hold that it refers to an eschatological day of the Lord. Though disagreeing, EDNT (2:331) notes that it is “possibly reminiscent of the OT ‘day of the Lord’ (Joel 2:31 LXX).” Those suggesting that the phrase indicates an eschatological “day of the Lord” include: Milton Terry, F. J. A. Hort, William Milligan, John F. Walvoord, Samuele Bacchiocchi, and Ranko Stefanovic. Others holding this position include: Johann J. Wetstein, C. F. J. Zullig, A. G. Maitland, Vander Honert G. B. Winer, Adolf Deissman, J. B. Lightfoot, E. W. Bullinger, and Walter Scott. Though G. K. Beale calls “attractive,” he ultimately rejects it.
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The main arguments against kuriake hemera referring to the “day of the Lord” and therefore supporting its application to Sunday (or sometimes: Easter) are basically three: (1) Lexically, in Scripture the day of the Lord is never referred to by the adjective kuriake. (2) Contextually, this statement introduces a vision of the Son of Man walking among the churches, which does not suggest a judgmental day of the Lord. (3) Historically, the term kuriake absolutely and with the noun hemeras are applied later by the Church Fathers to the Christian day of worship.
Nevertheless, I believe John is referring to the “day of the Lord.” I will briefly respond to the arguments brought against this view first, then I will cite the positive evidence supporting it.
First, regarding the fact that Scripture never refers to the day of the Lord by using kuriake, I would point out that this argument cuts both ways: neither does it use the term for the Christian day of worship. In the NT the day of worship is called simply “the first day of the week” (Ac 20:7; 1Co 16:2), never “the Lord’s day.” Even John in his Gospel refers to the day of Jesus’ resurrection (which becomes for that reason, the day of Christian worship) as “the first day of the week” (Jn 20:1, 19).
Second, though the reference introduces the vision of Christ walking among the candlesticks, the day of the Lord interpretation is contextually suitable for several reasons: (1) It follows just three verses after a statement regarding Christ’s judgment-coming on the clouds (1:7), which is most definitely an image of the day of the Lord (cf. Eze 30:3; Joel 2:2; Zep 1:15).
(2) In 1:8 God declares that he is the one “who is and who was and who is to come.” Smalley recognizes a relationship between the erchetai in 1:7 and erchomenos in 1:8, observing that “the advent theme of verse 7, centred in the returning Christ, is picked up here once again, and set within the total context of the judgement and salvation brought by the living Godhead.”
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(3) In the immediately preceding verse John mentions the “tribulation” which the churches are already enduring and which call for “patience” (1:9). Thus, here in his introductory vision he is encouraging their patience by informing them that though the divine judgments in Rev will “soon take place” (1:1) because “the time is near” (1:3), Christ is among them as their protector as well as their judge. Therefore, they must weather the coming storms by means of his holy presence (2:2–5; 14–16, 19–25; 3:2–4, 11, 15–16, 19) and they can weather the storms because of his powerful presence (2:10, 26–28; 3:5, 8–10, 20–21).
(4) This vision of Christ expressly relates to Christ’s AD 70 judgment-coming for John takes aspects of the vision and applies them to the churches who also are enduring the wrath of “the Jews” (2:9; 3:9) who were the ones who “pierced” him (1:7). The Christ of the vision expressly informs one church (3:7 cp. 1:18b; cf. Beale 283) that he will make the Jews “come and bow down at your feet, and to know that I have loved you” (3:9b).
Third, though the term kuriake was later applied to the Christian day of worship, it never is in Scripture. Almost certainly this language was picked up by the Church fathers not only as appropriate for that day, but as assumed to be referring to it. If we could find this language in the NT as clearly applying to Sunday, this would provide insurmountable evidence. But we do not — and “there is no certainty that the name was generally received from the first” (Hort). Furthermore, Bacchiocchi summarizes an extensive argument showing that one of the leading “evidences” for this view not only does not even qualify the noun hemera (day) when it reads kata kuriaken de kuriou, but it may actually be speaking not of “the time but the manner of the celebration of the Lord’s Supper.”
To be continued.