Wednesday, May 1, 2013

More from Leithart on the Apocalypse

Peter Leithart is spending a good deal of time with Revelation lately. As noted yesterday, he offers a few simple points to guide responsible interpretation. The first point is self-evident to any serious reader of the Scriptures.
1) Revelation is a book of the Bible. It is packed with Old Testament language and imagery, and cannot be understood without that Old Testament background. One scholar has suggested that Revelation uses the Old Testament “compositionally” rather than “expositionally” – there is no commentary on biblical texts (as in, say, Romans), but the Old Testament provides the palette from which Revelation is painted. Attempts to explain Revelation primarily by reference to Roman history or current events forget this principle.
Leithart's point that it cannot be understood without an Old Testament background is illustrated in the similarities between Isaiah 60 and Revelation 21-22.
The sun shall be no more
your light by day,
nor for brightness shall the moon
give you light;
but the LORD will be your everlasting light,
and your God will be your glory.
Your sun shall no more go down,
nor your moon withdraw itself;
for the LORD will be your everlasting light,
and your days of mourning shall be ended.
Your people shall all be righteous;
they shall possess the land forever,
the branch of my planting, the work of my hands,
that I might be glorified.
The least one shall become a clan,
and the smallest one a mighty nation;
I am the LORD;
in its time I will hasten it.

(Isaiah 60:19-22 ESV)

And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, and its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. They will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. But nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb's book of life.

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.

(Revelation 21:22-22:5 ESV)
There is, after all, a very good reason Revelation is the last book in the Bible. What is written there has probably also been written somewhere else, earlier in the canon. The death and resurrection of Christ, however, brings new meaning to those old prophecies.

Today, Leithart draws from antiquity to solve the Apocalypse's most puzzling mystery.
Bede offers several explanations of the number 666 in his Bede: Commentary on Revelation. The number is the number of the Greek word “Titan,” a “giant,” because “it is thought that Antichrist will usurp this name, as if he excelled all in power, boasting that he is the one of whom it is written, ‘he rejoiced as a giant to run his course.’”

The name “Antemos,” which means “contrary to honor” is also a 666, and the verb “I deny” has the same numerical value. Both exhibit “the character of the person and the asperity of the work of Antichrist.”

Bede eventually offers a reading that is more firmly rooted in the Bible: “who is ignorant, that the number six, in accordance with which the world was created, signifies the perfection of work? And this, whether simple, or multiplied by ten, or a hundred, demonstrates the fruit of the same perfection to be sixty-fold, or a hundred-fold.” Plus, “The weight of gold also which was brought to Solomon every year was six hundred and sixty-six thousand talents. The seducer, therefore, will presume to exact for himself the offering which is rightfully due and paid to the true king.”

666 means “a counterfeit Adam” and “a false Solomon.”