seven oracles 3PMT 2015-087 by Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr.

This is the third in a mini-series on the seven “letters” to the seven churches in Revelation. I have been arguing that they are not really letters at all. Rather they are judgment oracles. This fits perfectly with the preterist understanding of Rev as a covenant lawsuit against Israel. In the previous article I offered the first two arguments for the oracular nature of these seven messages. In this article I will complete my argument.

Third, the oracles are a part of the crucial, introductory vision of the Son of Man and even flesh out this visionary unit that extends from 1:9 all the way through to 3:22. The oracles are not separate, free-standing material. Unfortunately, this is obscured by the modern chapter divisions imposed upon the text. But we can see the unified nature of this larger section from several lines of evidence:

(1) The initial portion of the vision of the Son of Man ends with a statement regarding the seven churches (1:20). Then it immediately begins presenting oracles to those very churches: “to the angel of the church in Ephesus write” (2:1a). This by itself should compel us to recognize this material as a related unit.

(2) The Son of Man in the vision is repeatedly declared to be the very one who is charging John to write (1:11, 12, 17, 19; cp. 1:3): this continuing charge is carefully repeated in introducing each of the seven oracles (2:1a, 8a, 12a, 18a; 3:1a, 7a, 14a). Thus, John is evidently still in the presence of the visionary Son of Man and continues to hear him speaking (which speaking began in 1:12) in the authoritative oracles: “the One who . . . says” (2:1b; cp. 2:8b, 12b, 18b; 3:1b, 7b, 14b).

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(3) The descriptions of the Son of Man in the vision (1:12–20) are repeatedly brought into the oracles to underscore the fact that he is the one who continues to speak. For instance, in 2:2 he is presents himself as “the One who holds the seven stars” which reflects the vision of 1:20. In 2:8b he calls himself “the first and the last” which is based on 1:17c. And so on (see more on this below).

(4) John provides no internal break, no textual clue to suggest that he has left his visionary experience (1:10). That is, we do not hear such transitional statements as “after these things” (4:1; 7:9; 15:5; 18:1; 19:1). Interestingly though, the actual name “Jesus” or “Christ” is never given in the oracles, though it appears in 1:1, 2, 5, 9; 11:15; 12:10, 17; 14:12; 19:10; 20:4, 6; 22:16, 20, 21)

Thus, regarding the importance of the seven oracles, we must recognize that they are a part of the all-important, opening vision of the risen, death-conquering Christ who will dominate the entire story of Rev. They are therefore important as introductions to the judgment/salvation visions to follow. All of this “is very important” in that by recounting “this vision as he does at the beginning of the work” he “established, in the customary fashion of Judaeo-Christian rhetoric, his thos as a prophet — the trustworthiness of character that Aristotle identified as perhaps the most effective source of rhetorical proof” (John Kirby).

Fourth, as historically-focused oracles they anchor Rev in the first century, which we should expect in light of John’s near-term indicators (1:1, 3; 22:6, 10). John opens his book with a vision of the Son of Man (1:12–22) among those particular churches (1:4, 11, cp. 2:1, 8, 12, 18; 3:1, 7, 14), then immediately applies this vision to the real circumstances of his original audience. The preterist approach sees these messages as providing strong evidence for its understanding of the overall point of Rev.

Fifth, the presence of the oracles as microcosms of John’s larger story is also helpful for our understanding a very practical matter: the relationship of the seven churches to the drama therein. After all, the redemptive-historical preterist sees the main focus of Rev to be on Israel’s AD 70 judgment (1:7). If John is writing to Asia Minor churches about the approaching fall of Jerusalem over 450 miles across the Mediterranean Sea to the southeast how is Rev important for its original recipients? I would point out the following.

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John writes to the seven churches of Asia but through them to all the churches: note that the Son of Man “holds the seven stars” in his hand (2:1), each of the oracles speaks to “the churches” (2:7, 11, 17, 29; 3:6, 13, 22), and at one place we specifically hear that “all the churches” are to learn from the experience of one (2:23). Thus, “these seven churches have been singled out to complete the sublime number that figures so prominently in the symbolism of the book, and thus to epitomize the first-century church as a whole” (Kirby). The smaller story of the seven churches plays out on the larger canvas of the judgments closing out the old covenant in the fall of Jerusalem and the permanent collapse of the Jewish temple as a redemptive-historical act in establishing the new covenant. The larger story to unfold in Jerusalem is not irrelevant to the local churches far away in Asia Minor.000 Conference Ministry


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  1. Ken B. July 20, 2015 at 9:43 am

    It’s great to finally read a well-thought out interpretation of Revelation. My thought is that the letters to the seven churches are also warnings to Jewish Christians. John is warning Jewish Christians in the first century not to make pilgrimages to Jerusalem for the Jewish Feasts like Passover and Pentecost because of the impending judgement of Jerusalem. Does that make sense?

  2. Kenneth Gentry July 26, 2015 at 4:21 pm

    That is quite reasonable. In fact, Jerusalem was finally shut-up by Titus in the final five month siege with its walls filled with Passover celebrants, making the destruction all that much more devastating. Jesus warned that when his disciple saw Jerusalem surrounded by armies, they were to flee (Luke 21:20-21). Jerusalem was surrounded at least three times. The first time by Cesitus Gallus in late 66. But he quickly withdrew, allowing the Christians to take up the Lord’s warning in order to flee. Those trapped in Jerusalem when Titus surrounded it in Spring of AD 67 were doomed.

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