We have come to believe that we deserve to be happy and if our particular Bubble Tree makes us happy, well then, why should we plunge in headlong?. So, perhaps the first thing we need to do is answer the question, why. In other words, why should we restrain ourselves? Proverbs 30:8-9 gives us the beginning of an answer.
As a believer, if I always entertained thoughts and engaged in deeds that are suitable to one who enjoys life in Christ, then self-control would not be an activity with which I would need to be concerned. However, undergoing regeneration does not mean that all my sinful thoughts and desires have been banished from the boundaries of my person. In this life there is an irreconcilable war waging within my members that won’t be fully and finally reconciled until my last day. I am a sinner still and therefore I must be occupied with controlling myself.
A quick etymological search shows that control is likely made up of two words that mean something like against the wheel. The picture it creates is certainly apt. In C. S. Lewis’s space adventure Perelandra, Ransom is transported to a planet of pure beauty. It was like a dream, he thought, this was the most “vivid dream I have ever had.” And then, there were the trees. Bubble Trees they were called. And when he touched one of them it burst on him and “drenched with what seemed (in that warm world) an ice-cold shower bath, and his nostrils filled with a sharp, shrill, exquisite scent that somehow brought to his mind the verse in Pope, “die of a rose in aromatic pain.” In other words, it was wonderful, and Ransom wanted more. But Ransom had always disliked those who encored at the opera – “that just spoils it” and now the principle had “far wider application.” In other words, Ransom practiced self-control.
Of course, Lewis is teaching us what he first learned from Paul. The Apostle was a man who knew how to abound and how to be brought low. He said in a verse often stripped of this context, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:13).
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By Michael Kuykendall — 12 months ago
The book of Revelation, however, must be treated with particular care when it comes to updating distances and measurements and the number of uses of key words. Modern Bibles unwittingly entrench literalism by updating measurements and distances. Their updating practice actually limits the numbers and masks the numerical symbolism. Furthermore, they diminish the theological cross reference system that John employs. Therefore, for the book of Revelation, modern versions should retain ancient measurements and distances. They can supply a footnote updating these features and add a statement that the number is most likely symbolically significant for John.
Several modern Bible versions do a disservice to John’s use of numbers in the book of Revelation. This article first offers a short primer on symbolism in Revelation, then overviews the book’s symbolic use of numbers. John utilizes “good” numbers and “bad” numbers to express theological truths. The bulk of the study examines how several modern versions unwittingly thwart John’s theological intentions by masking his numerical symbolism. This is evidenced in two ways––changing (updating) the actual symbolic number when measurements and distances are mentioned; and rendering key terms in Revelation found exactly seven times with different English words, which obscures significant numerical interconnections. The conclusion asserts that future modern versions and revisions of existing translations must treat Revelation differently on this issue.
Several modern Bible versions do a disservice to John’s use of numbers in the book of Revelation. Three topics are addressed in this article. First, a short primer on symbolism in the book of Revelation is offered. Second, the symbolism of numbers in Revelation is likewise briefly overviewed. Third, the bulk of this study is a survey of how several modern versions unwittingly thwart John’s theological intentions by masking his numerical symbolism.
1. Symbolism in the Book of Revelation
The book of Revelation is saturated with symbols and images. Although the genres of prophecy and epistle are present in Revelation, the genre of apocalypse is found the most. Apocalyptic literature such as Revelation was popular in John’s era, and its guidelines for interpretation must be followed by modern readers. Apocalypses included several characteristics such as multiple visions, dualistic outlook, recapitulated structure, deterministic outlook, tribulation, and especially symbolism. In order to describe the indescribable scenes revealed, John opted to use apocalyptic imagery. Such language is filled with bizarre images and symbols.1 Furthermore, John’s symbols can be placed into identifiable categories––heavenly beings, demonic beings, people, names, objects, places, animals, time elements, institutions, colors, and numbers.2
2. Numerical Symbolism in the Book of Revelation
Utilizing a dualistic cosmology, John presents good supernatural beings and bad supernatural beings, good people and bad people, good places and bad places, good things and bad things, and so forth. Numerical symbolism, therefore, is one symbolic element within John’s cosmological repertoire. Like other symbols, there are “good” numbers and “bad” numbers.3
2.1. Good Numbers
The following numbers are “good” because they are most often connected with God and his people: two, four, seven, ten, and twelve.
The number “two” (δύο) symbolizes completeness and is often connected to a valid testimony and effectual witness (Num 35:30; Deut 17:6; 19:15; Matt 18:16; John 8:17; Heb 10:28). Thus, the two witnesses of Revelation represent the church, particularly its distinguishing characteristic as witnesses for Christ despite persecution and death (11:3–13).4
“Four” (τέσσαρες) signifies full and total coverage, most often in view of God’s creation, the surface of the earth, and universality (Exod 25–39; Isa 58; Amos 1–2). Thus, the “four corners of the earth” (7:1; 20:8) refers to the whole earth. The fourfold phrase “every tribe and language and people and nation” (in differing order) symbolizes everyone on earth without exception, and is further accentuated by being listed seven times.5
This number connotes completeness, fullness, totality, and perfection. “Seven” (ἑπτά), with its multiples, is found throughout the ancient Near East as a sacred number. Its symbolism is traceable throughout Scripture, from the seven days of creation (Gen 4:15) to the sevenfold voice of God (Ps 29) to the sevenfold wrath of God (Ps 79:12) to the seven eyes of God (Zech 4:10). The number appears 739 times in the OT, sixty-six times in the Apocrypha, and 108 times in the NT. Eugene Boring cautions, “Not all these have a particularly sacred or symbolic meaning, of course, though the majority have at least this tone.”6 John’s encompassing use of this number (63% of all NT uses are in Revelation) emphasizes theological truths and underscores the intricate structuring of his Apocalypse––seven churches, seven seals, seven trumpets, seven bowls, and so forth.
This number (and its multiples) emphasizes indefiniteness, magnitude, and completeness, often from the point of view of time and humanity, especially with satanic influence and activity in mind. Long ago, Isbon Beckwith related that “ten” (δέκα) is a number signifying fullness and completeness in the Bible and with apocalyptic writers.7 When connected to its multiples such as a thousand, it is more suggestive of indefiniteness and of magnitude.8 Thus, the number “thousand” (χιλιάς, χίλιοι) is a large, round number that represents multiplicity, vastness, entirety, and fullness. The Bible reveals that “thousand” was used as hyperbole for quantity, immeasurability, or completeness (Deut 1:10; 1 Sam 18:7; Job 9:3; Ps 50:10; Dan 7:10; 2 Pet 3:8). Since various Bible genres understand “thousand” symbolically instead of literally, it should also be understood this way in apocalyptic literature, which is grounded in symbolism.9
“Twelve” (δώδεκα) symbolizes fullness and completeness, often with humanity in mind, and with special reference to the saints. Twelve is a significant number throughout the Bible. The twelve sons of Israel (Gen 35:22–29) became the twelve tribes of Israel (Gen 49:28), and biblical writers soon employed the number to symbolize the tribes as the people of God (Exod 24:4; Num 1:44; Deut 1:23; Josh 4:1–7). Unlike seven, which can be used for both divine and demonic symbolism, the number twelve is reserved exclusively for the saints. Jean-Pierre Prévost relates, “So the number twelve has become a consecrated number: it is the number of the people of God.”10 Thus, John’s readers are treated with the twelve tribes representing the complete number of saints (7:4–8).11 The woman with twelve stars on her head symbolizes the people of God (12:1). Twelve is especially highlighted in the vision of the new Jerusalem (21:9–22:9). There are twelve gates, twelve angels, twelve tribes of Israel, twelve foundations, and twelve names of the apostles (21:12–14) to signify completeness. The multiples attached to twelve such as twenty-four elders, 144 cubits, 12,000 stadia, and 144,000 servants would also indicate symbolism.
2.2. Bad Numbers
“Bad” numbers are attached to the demonic realm, to unbelievers, or to the suffering and persecution endured by believers.
Fractions such as one-third, one-fourth, and one-half mean something is not complete. Thus, they may be viewed as “bad” because they represent something partial, imperfect, and unaccomplished.12
2.2.2. Three and a Half
The number “three and a half” (τρεῖς καί ἥμισυ; 11:9, 11) is half of the perfect number of seven. It is a “bad” number because alongside its other matches (“forty-two months,” “thousand two hundred sixty days,” and “time, times, and half a time”), it emphasizes the time period of persecution for the saints. Moreover, the three and a half “days” of the humiliation of the two witnesses symbolizes the suffering to the point of martyrdom the church endures during the interadvental age. Most scholars maintain a distinction between the “days” and “years” attached to these numbers. Thus, three and a half “years” and three and a half “days” signify two distinct short periods of time under God’s control. The three and a half days of humiliation endured by the two witnesses corresponds to the three and a half years of ministry of Jesus analogously.13 It also serves as a reminder to the length of time from Jesus’s own death to his resurrection “on the third day.”14 John’s audience would have picked up on the symbolic number three and a half from Elijah’s drought (1 Kgs 18:1) to which both Jesus (Luke 4:25) and James (Jas 5:17) utilize. Yet 1 Kings 18:1 states “in the third year,” not three and a half. Thus, “John has converted the ‘third day’ of Gospel tradition into ‘three and a half days,’ just as the tradition he followed with regard to Elijah’s drought converted the ‘third year’ of 1 Kings 18:1 into ‘three and a half years.’”15
The point is that John is emphasizing the theological import of the number three and a half, not the “days” or “years.” Therefore, the number “three and a half” is much more significant than the added time elements of “days” or “years.” Edmondo Lupieri stresses that symbolism is not as significant in the measurement (days, weeks, months, years) as in the numerical value attached to the measurement (one-half, three and a half, seven, ten, twelve).16 Similarly, James Resseguie states that “A broken seven appears once again, but now in terms of days, not years. The numerical portion (three and a half) is more important than the time span (days). The church’s life and work is symbolized by the number three and a half, whether three and a half days or three and a half years.”17 John Sweet adds, “In other words, John is urging the church to see its whole life and work under the sign of three and a half.”18 John is not referring to two separate time periods (days and years) but presenting two angles on the same time period—the Christian era.19 In sum, “three and a half” emphasizes the time period of the witness of the church. It symbolizes the entire interadvental age from the resurrection to the return of Christ. The significance of the number is that the church (two witnesses) testifies and suffers even to the point of martyrdom. When the two witnesses arise after three and a half days, it reflects the second coming and the end of the age. Since three and a half is matched with forty-two (months), thousand two hundred sixty (days), and “time, times, and half a time” (12:14), they would all signify the same interadvental time period.20
“Forty-two months” (μῆνας τεσσεράκοντα [καὶ] δύο) is a numerical symbol for a short yet intense period of persecution for the saints, covering the entire church age. This time designation occurs twice. First, John is instructed not to measure the outer court of the temple “because it has been given to the Gentiles. They will trample on the holy city for 42 months” (11:2).21 Second, it is the time period for the beast “to exercise its authority for forty-two months” (13:5).22 Forty-two recalls the time period of Israel’s wilderness wanderings, which included forty-two encampments (Num 33:5–49).23 The number is also associated with violence (2 Kgs 2:23–24).24 For certain, forty-two months is equivalent to three and a half years mentioned above, a common figure signifying a short intense period of suffering for the people of God. By John’s time, “three and a half” had become a symbol, a metaphor, a standardized expression of persecution of the faithful.25
2.2.4. Thousand Two Hundred Sixty
This time designation emphasizes the church’s role in witnessing the gospel in spite of persecution. The saints are promised spiritual protection and provision to enable them to be witnesses throughout the church era. The two occurrences of a “thousand two hundred and sixty days” (ἡμέρας χιλίας διακοσίας ἑξήκοντα) are found in the second (10:1–11:14) and third interludes (12:1–15:4). In the first instance it relates the time period of witnessing for the church (two witnesses). “And I will appoint my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for 1,260 days, clothed in sackcloth’” (11:3). The second mention relates the protective care the people of God (symbolized by the woman) receive during this period. “The woman fled into the wilderness to a place prepared for her by God, where she might be taken care of for 1,260 days” (12:6).26 “Wilderness” alludes to the forty years that the Israelites were cared for by God (Exod 16:32; Deut 1:31; Ps 78:52). Thus, a thousand two hundred sixty days “symbolizes not just testing and trial but also divine comfort and protection.”27 Whereas forty-two months stresses the persecution of the saints (11:2; 13:5), a thousand two hundred and sixty days stresses perseverance, protection, and provision for the saints.
Another link to spiritual provision is that the woman is taken care of for “time, times, and half a time” (καιρὸν καὶ καιροὺς καὶ ἥμισυ καιροῦ; 12:14). This direct allusion to Daniel 7:25 confirms that all these time elements correspond to three and a half years, a common expression for persecution of the people of God. What John has added is the promise of spiritual protection and nourishment during this time that enables believers to witness. The beast and his forces are allowed to “kill the body” but they “cannot kill the soul” (Matt 10:28).
In sum, the temporal markers above are used synonymously and interchangeably. They all reflect persecution, protection, testing, and witness for the saints. On closer inspection, however, it appears they stress different aspects of the same thing. “Time, times, and half a time” and forty–two months accent persecution; a thousand two hundred sixty days emphasizes perseverance, protection, and provision; and three and a half highlights witness.28 As Frederick Murphy concludes, “All of these are the same thing seen from different angles.”29
2.2.5. Six Hundred Sixty-Six
There is one more “bad” number to consider. “Six hundred sixty-six” (ἑξακόσιοι ἑξήκοντα ἕξ) is the numerical symbol for the beast (Rev 13:18). It stands for incompleteness and imperfection. The threefold six is a demonic parody of the Trinity. This number is the most obvious “bad” number in Revelation. Countless studies have attempted to interpret the number and identify possible human referents.30 Fortunately, six hundred sixty-six causes no translation problems among modern Bible versions. The previous numbers, however, do cause problems.
This study supports the approach that numbers are important in John’s symbolic universe. If so, then altering his numbers for modern audiences could damage his symbolic purposes.
3. The Weakness of Modern Bible Versions on the Numerical Symbols of Revelation
Several modern Bible translations do poorly in bringing out the numerical symbolism presented in Revelation. Their poor performance is evidenced in two ways. First, many modern versions change (update) the actual symbolic number when measurements and distances are mentioned. Second, many Bible versions are inconsistent in rendering key terms in Revelation with the same English equivalent, with the result of hiding significant numerical interconnections.
3.1. Masking John’s Symbolism by Updating Measurements and Distances
The unfortunate choices made by several modern versions is found in the following four numbers: “twice ten thousand times ten thousand,” “hundred forty-four,” “thousand six hundred,” and “twelve thousand.” The first number is a standalone number. The second is applied to a measurement, and the last two numbers deal with distances.
3.1.1. Twice Ten Thousand Times Ten Thousand (9:16)
This is the number of demonic mounted troops mentioned in the sixth trumpet. It is not a literal number, but rather symbolic hyperbole for an incalculable number. “Thousand” in Revelation is translated from two words—χιλιάς (19 of 23 NT uses) and χίλιοι (9 of 11 NT uses).31 An additional word (μυριάς) is often translated as “thousands” and occurs in two passages. First, an innumerable number of angels is mentioned in the throne room vision (4:1–5:14). John hears “the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders” (5:11). Listed twice, μυριάδες μυριάδων is translated as “ten thousand times ten thousand.” Some translations update the number to “thousands and millions” (CEB, CEV, GNT, NLT). A few versions transliterate it as “myriads on myriads” (ESV, NASB, NRSV, REB).32 The phrase derives from Daniel 7:10 where the idea of countless is apparent. Thus, almost all English versions do well at 5:11 in recognizing the incalculable nature of the number. The phrase is not meant to limit the number of angels there are. CSB’s “Their number was countless thousands, plus thousands of thousands” translates the phrase well.
The same cannot be said, however, for the similar number listed at 9:16. Once again, μυριάς is used twice–δισμυριάδες μυριάδων (“two myriads of myriads”), literally “twice ten thousand of ten thousand” or “twenty thousand of ten thousands.” John likely alludes to previous hyperbolic numbers (Deut 33:2; Ps 68:17; Dan 7:10). The prefix (δισ) is frequently translated as “twice.”
By Travis Peterson — 2 months ago
On-line preaching can be tremendously helpful. But it brings with it a few dangers. Watch out for false and novel teaching. Watch out for the temptation to find a teacher, any teacher, any teacher at all, who agrees with you and goes against what others are telling you. Use your resources wisely. But do not let your resources take you out of faithful Christian living in your local church. Do not daydream about having a legend for a pastor or feel the urge to reshape your pastor into your favorite conference personality. Be grateful for faithful teaching, but do not assume that simply consuming content has sanctified you.
Preach the word! The Lord commands it. The body is blessed by it. The sermon is a good and necessary thing for the life of the believer.
In today’s world, the believer has access to more of the preached word than ever before. We can read books of collected messages. We can stream our favorite Bible teachers. We can turn on RYM Radio and hear teaching all day long. We can Google the Internet (I hear that’s what the kids call it), and find videos of pastors of small churches we will never hear of in any other way.
But, as a pastor, one who preaches weekly (and hopefully not weakly), can I warn you of a danger or two in too much on-line sermon consumption? I’m quite grateful for the resources that the Lord has placed at our fingertips, but I fear that some believers may move from being helped to being harmed by their consumption of material on-line.
I Know a Secret
One danger of on-line sermons that I think we would all agree on is the risk of consuming false teaching. This is more likely when a believer is listening to a pastor or scholar about whom they know nothing. If you are listening to a message or reading an article written by someone whose scholarship is not being checked by others, you run the risk of novel and even dangerous teaching.
One of the attractions of many an on-line message is the fact that it teaches you something you have never heard before. It is possible to run across a man who is translating the Hebrew of Genesis for himself and saying things about what it means to be human that no faithful teacher has ever taught. If a believer is not careful here, he or she may come away with a damaging, false belief that was all the more dangerous for feeling like it was something secret that no other teacher has brought forth.
I’d bet that you have heard of the problem of Gnosticism in the early church. Among the dangerous beliefs of the Gnostics was the ego-boosting belief that they possessed secret knowledge that was not available to the general public. It was easy for folks to love the fact that they were let in on the stuff that other, ordinary people could not grasp. See any similarities to how some folks feel about that special teacher they have found on-line?
Do you remember choose-your-own-adventure books? These were popular before video games took the idea to a whole new level. A reader would follow the story of a hero until a particular turning point: enter the cave or climb the mountain? The reader would turn to a different page of the book to find out what happened to the hero depending on the choice the reader made for the hero. Perhaps the cave contained a dragon. Perhaps the mountain led to a castle and a princess. The point was to give the reader a sense of adventure by being able to pick the kind of story he or she wanted to read.
Similar to the draw of novel and dangerous doctrine is the temptation to pick and defend your own favorite teaching. Sometimes people will have a particular point of doctrine they want others to agree with. Instead of examining faithful teaching of faithful teachers, the eager learner will scour the Internet for the one teacher who says it just the way they want to hear. Want to find that Calvinist who dunks on your Arminian friends, no problem. Want to find that Arminian preacher who makes your Calvinist friends look like cold-hearted robots, piece of cake. Want to find somebody who interprets a particular passage in accord with your strange preferences? This one might take a bit more work, but the Internet is a big place, and lots of people have said lots of crazy things over the years; so it can be done.
By R. Fowler White — 8 months ago
Written by R. Fowler White |
Friday, April 14, 2023
Remorseful without repentance, Judas committed suicide (Matt 27:3-11). Having seen Jesus condemned to death, Judas was now filled with sorrow and regret—but not with repentance or faith. His response was not that of a changed heart, but of a pained heart. We see him confess his guilt to the Sanhedrin, but not to God or to His Son Jesus. And he then died by suicide. Here we shouldn’t forget the consequences of demonic indwelling: self-destructive behavior. For the love of money, Judas forfeited his soul, showing remorse but no repentance.
Among the many searing and disturbing parts of the accounts of Jesus’ suffering and death is the fact that He was betrayed, as we all know, by Judas Iscariot. The impact of that act is so significant that Judas has become the prime example of ‘the betrayer’ in Western culture. Judas not only has a role in virtually every retelling of the Passion of Jesus; he appears often as the proverbial symbol of the profit-driven betrayer in much of our literature and cinema. Yet, every now and then, we hear of efforts to look at Judas in a more sympathetic light, to rehabilitate him. ‘Really?’ you say. Yes, really. Is such a rehabilitation even possible? Taking the Bible seriously, the unfolding relationship between Judas and Jesus can be told from a series of NT scenes. Reflect then on eight scenes in which Judas appears by name.
Scene 1: Judas was appointed by Jesus (Matt 10:1-4; Luke 6:12-15; Mark 3:13-19). The name Judas, taken from one of the sons of Jacob-Israel, was the Greek version of the name Judah. The modifier Iscariot most likely refers to his hometown, indicating that he was Ish-karioth, a ‘man of Karioth,’ a town in southern Judea. As a Judean, he lived closer to a center of education (Jerusalem) and was thus probably more educated and cultured than others among the Twelve (such as the fishermen). Still, like the other Eleven, Judas was chosen by Jesus after an all-night prayer session and was made ‘keeper of the common purse’ (treasurer) for Jesus and the Twelve. Indeed, Judas became one of the few to whom Jesus had spoken privately about the fact that He must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. Judas, then, was one of the Twelve with whom Jesus had chosen to be most intimately associated. Still, we notice that the four Gospel writers all refer to Judas not just as one of the Twelve. No, they brand him the one who betrayed Him, the one who became a traitor, to underline the heinous nature of his sin and crime. We’re introduced to Judas, then, as one of the Twelve appointed by Jesus, but as the one who betrayed Him.
Scene 2: Judas secretly rejected Jesus (John 6:66-71). As we come to John 6, we’re two years into the earthly ministry of Jesus. Judas has just seen the sign of the feeding of the 5,000 and the sign of walking on the water. He has just heard the “I am the Bread of Life” sermon—which, we’re told, was not received well at all. In fact, the scene in John 6 is one of mass defection from Jesus after His mass popularity. Like many in the crowds, Judas stumbled when Jesus identified Himself as the true Bread of Life from heaven. Hearing that sermon, Judas grumbled as one who did not believe Him (6:61, 64). The surprise here is not only that Judas secretly disbelieved, for many disbelieved. The surprise is that Jesus knew from the beginning that, though he was one of His own choosing, Judas was a devil, a slanderer, who did not believe Him and was intending to betray Him (John 6:70-71).
Scene 3: Judas expressed public contempt for Mary of Bethany, who anointed Jesus for burial (John 12:1-8). By the time we reach this scene in John’s Gospel, we know that Judas has witnessed many signs that authenticated Jesus’ identity, including all seven signs that culminated in the resurrection of Lazarus in Bethany. Back again in Bethany, while Jesus and the Twelve were having supper with Mary and Martha and also with resurrected Lazarus, Mary’s act of devotion got everybody’s attention. Matthew and Mark show us that, in that critical moment, all the Twelve expressed contempt for her action. John, though, singles out Judas for protesting Mary’s act as if she were effectively stealing from the poor to benefit Jesus. Yet his complaint, John tells us, was just a pretentious cover for his pilfering from the common purse of Jesus and the Twelve.