PMW 2020-009 by Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr.

I am beginning a new series of studies that will present a detailed case for identifying the seven-sealed scroll in Revelation. Revelation is performative drama that employs forensic rhetoric. The succession of scenes will increasingly inform the audience of the legal action undertaken within. The identity of this scroll will exercise a large interpretive influence over the later chapters of Revelation.

By way of introducing this court-drama I will trace in broad strokes Revelation’s interesting legal plot-line, then I will backup and provide the particular evidence that leads me to this understanding.

(1) John opens by announcing in no uncertain terms the absolute authority of his message. It comes ultimately from God through Christ to the angel and finally to John (Rev 1:1). With such a chain of authority, John in legal fashion amply “bore witness” (Rev 1:2) to the message. Witnesses and testimony play an important role throughout the book. The Greek word for “witness” (martus) has as a primary meaning the idea of a legal witness, as in a court case (cf. Dt 17:6; 19:15; Mt 18:16; 26:65; Ac 6:13; 7:58; 2Co 13:1; 1Ti 5:19; Heb 10:28).

(2) John declares that Revelation’s events are historically pressing issues imminent in his own day. They must “shortly take place” (Rev 1:1) for “the time is near” (Rev 1:3). Later he will conclude his drama by reaffirming the nearness of the prophetic events (Rev 22:6, 10). Whatever may be the drama that requires such authority and legal witness, it must directly relate to the first century Church — for it will play out in her experience.

(3) As John prepares to state his theme, he focuses on Christ as “the faithful witness” (Rev 1:5; cp. also 3:14). Clearly the original audience is to recognize the legal character of what is to follow.

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(4) He then establishes his legal theme which focuses on Christ’s judgment-coming against the Jews who had crucified Christ: “Behold, He is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him; and all the tribes of the earth (lit.: “land”) will mourn over Him. Even so. Amen” (Rev 1:7). (For evidence that his theme portrays Christ’s judgment of first century Israel, see Ch. 8 in my Before Jerusalem Fell.) In fact, two of the Seven Letters specifically warn the recipients about the antagonism of the racial Jews. In his estimation the Jews are not worthy of the name “Jew” (cp. Ro 2:28–29) for they are of the “synagogue of Satan” (Rev 2:9; 3:9; cp. Jesus’ similar denunciation, Jn 8:44).

In keeping with Revelation’s imminency-expectation and Israel-judgment theme, Christ even promises that those Jews so troubling them will soon be brought low — evidently in A.D. 70: “Behold, I will cause those of the synagogue of Satan, who say that they are Jews, and are not, but lie — behold, I will make them to come and bow down at your feet, and to know that I have loved you” (Rev 3:9; cp. Mt 24:2, 16; 1Th 2:15–16).

(5) Christ appears in Revelation’s inaugural vision (Rev 1:13–20) to formally and authoritatively commission John to write the prophecy, further enhancing the authority of John’s witness: “Write therefore the things which you have seen, and the things which are, and the things which shall take place after these things” (Rev 1:19). In fact, the Lord lays his hand upon him to lift him up for his task (Rev 1:17). Jesus explains that he himself “was dead” but is now “alive forevermore” (Rev 1:18), despite the fact that the Jews “pierced him” to death (Rev 1:7).

(6) The actual judgment process begins with John being summoned before God where he sees the Lord seated on his judicial throne: “After these things I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven, and the first voice which I had heard, like the sound of a trumpet speaking with me, said, ‘Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after these things.’ Immediately I was in the Spirit; and behold, a throne was standing in heaven, and One sitting on the throne” (Rev 4:1–2). God is surrounded by his heavenly court, the twenty-four elders sitting on their thrones (Rev 4:4). John frequently mentions God’s throne and the heavenly control of earthly events in Revelation (see esp.: Rev 1:4; 4–5; 6:16; 7:10; 12:5; 19:4; 20:11).

(7) As John looks about this heavenly court he notices a sealed document in God’s right hand (Rev 5:1). This document involves the central matter for which he has been summoned to court, for the entire heavenly court focuses attention on it (Rev 5:2–4) and it initiates the first judgments to follow (Rev 6:1–8:1). After some consternation regarding who can open it (Rev 5:2–4) he soon discovers that the “Lamb” who had been “slain” (as per the theme, Rev 1:7) is the only one worthy of opening the court document (Rev 5:2, 5). The victim is the witness. The scroll’s being sealed and its handling in God’s court suggests it is some sort of legal document.

(8) In keeping with Revelation’s judgment theme against Israel (Rev 1:7) John presents the Lamb in very Judaic imagery: “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” (Rev 5:5). This slain but living Lamb becomes the dominant figure of Revelation, appearing twenty-seven times in chapters 5–7, 12–15, 17, 19, 21–22. In the initial drama he appears between God’s throne and the elders (Rev 5:6) and is praised along with God (Rev 5:13). Later he appears “in the center of” and “on” the throne (Rev 7:17; 22:1, 3).

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(9) As the slain but living Lamb begins unsealing this legal scroll, judgments pour out upon “the land” of Israel (Rev 6–19 with interludes). At the opening of the fifth seal John sees the souls of deceased saints crying out for God’s “judging and avenging” their blood on those who “dwell in the land [literally]” (Rev 6:10). They are promised that they must wait only “a little while longer” (Rev 6:11). This scene reminds us of Jesus’ parable in Luke 18:1–8 where he promises God will speedily exercise justice for his elect who cry out day and night to him (Lk 18:7–8). We should also compare the scene to Christ’s denunciation of Israel’s leaders in Matthew 23. He promises their soon judgment (Mt 23:36) for shedding innocent blood (Mt 23:34–35). These victims of the Jews were persecuted because of their alignment with Christ (Rev 17:6; 19:2; cp. 7:14; 12:11): they have their names written in his Book of Life (Rev 3:5; 13:8; 17:8).

To be continued. It ain’t over til it’s over!

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