“THE KINGS OF THE EARTH” IN THE OT (4)

PMW 2019-104 by Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr.

After a brief Christmas break, I will now return to my study on “the kings of the earth” in Revelation. At this point I will open with:

Their Specific Revelation Setting

As noted in my commentary’s Introduction, and as I have argued elsewhere on 1:7, Rev is focusing on Israel’s judgment for rejecting Christ and persecuting his followers. Because of this Israel-judgment theme, Rev’s own setting opens the possibility that these “kings of the earth” picture the Jewish religious aristocracy. I will briefly rehearse some of Rev’s Judaic tendencies focusing on three angles.

Rev is the most OT-oriented book in the entire NT. “Rev contains more references to the Old Testament than any other document in the New Testament” (Smalley 9; cp. Osborne 25). Thus, as Bauckham (1993a: x–xi) notes: its “use of the Old Testament Scriptures is an essential key to its understanding” because “it is a book designed to be read in constant intertextual relationship with the Old Testament.” OT scholar Provan (81) agrees: “That the book of Revelation as a whole has been composed in intimate conversation with the Old Testament is widely acknowledged. It is a book which can scarcely be understood at all without reference to the Old Testament texts to which it constantly and variously alludes.” In fact, “the reader unfamiliar with the OT is hard pressed to make any sense of Revelation” (Beale and Carson 2007:1088).

This will be significant for our interpretation of the “kings of the earth” for the OT serves not only as the only Bible of early Apostolic Christianity, but it was central to ancient Israel’s very life and character. The OT (the Tanakh) is first-century Israel’s canon of faith and practice which distinguishes her from the nations. It defines her in terms of her ethnic origins, distinctives, and meaning as well as her redemptive mission and purpose in history.

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DJBP (642) notes of the Torah of Moses, itself the very foundation of the OT, that “when people acted rightly in conformity to the Torah, they carried out the requirements of the covenant that Israel had made with God.” This article goes on to note that “the national life found definition in scripture” and that Scripture “defined the nation’s sense of itself in the world.” Thus, the Torah particularly was “to regulate the life of all Jews,” by emphasizing the worship of one God, as well as such religio-cultural distinctives as “the honoring of the Sabbath, circumcision, ritual purity, and dietary laws” (DJBP 637).

Consequently, “in the Second Temple period, certain Jewish writings — portions of what today is known as the Hebrew Bible — were accorded a special, authoritative religious status” in that they were deemed “inspired repositories of perfect truth that derived directly from God. This understanding of ‘scripture’ is generally prevalent in the late Second Temple and subsequent Judaism” (DJBP 561). In fact, Israel’s Scripture-based life so distinguished her from the nations that it created tension with and generated strong responses from the Gentiles (cf. Tob 1:4–20; 1Macc), and even caused conflict within developing Christianity (cf., Ac 15; Gal).

We see Israel’s veneration of Scripture, for instance, in Josephus’ high estimation of Moses. He notes that Moses’ writings serve as ancient evidence of Israel’s origins as God’s special people: ”To this very day the writings left by Moses have so great a force, that even those that hate us do confess, that he who established this settlement was God, and that it was by the means of Moses, and of his virtue” (Ant. 3:15:3 §322). Elsewhere Josephus states regarding his own work Antiquities and its dependence on the OT Scriptures: “Our Jewish nation is of very great antiquity, and had a distinct subsistence of its own originally; as also, I have therein declared how we came to inhabit this country wherein we now live. Those Antiquities contain the history of five thousand years, and are taken out of our sacred books, but are translated by me into the Greek tongue” (Ag. Ap. 1:1 §2).


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This Jewish historian also compares the Jews’ high regard for the Scriptures to other ancient people and their writings: “As to our forefathers . . . they took no less care about writing such records (for I will not say they took greater care than the others I spoke of) and that they committed that matter to their high priests and to their prophets, and that these records have been written all along down to our own times with the utmost accuracy” (Ag. Ap. 1:6 §29).

He continues: “We have not an innumerable multitude of books among us, disagreeing from and contradicting one another (as the Greeks have) but only twenty-two books, which contain the records of all the past times; which are justly believed to be divine. . . . It is become natural to all Jews immediately, and from their very birth, to esteem these books to contain Divine doctrines, and to persist in them, and, if occasion be willingly to die for them. For it is no new thing for our captives, many of them in number, and frequently in time, to be seen to endure racks and deaths of all kinds upon the theatres, that they may not be obliged to say one word against our laws and the records that contain them” (Ag. Ap. 1:8 §28, 42–43).

To be continued. Next year (which happens to be next week)!

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