Comments

Revised Common Lectionary Commentary

Clippings: All Saints' Day - November 1, 2011



Saint Dominic contemplating the Scriptures Saint Dominic contemplating the Scriptures
Author's note:
Sometimes I have material left over when I edit Comments down to fit the available space. This page presents notes that landed on the clipping room floor. Some may be useful to you. While I avoid technical language in the Comments (or explain special terms), Clippings may have unexplained jargon from time to time.

A hypertext Glossary of Terms is integrated with Clippings. Simply click on any highlighted word in the text and a pop-up window will appear with a definition. Bibliographic references are also integrated in the same way.

Revelation 7:9-17

As an alternative to the commentary presented in Comments, I offer one written in 1998:

What will happen at the end of time? Will our persecutors be brought to justice? Will God really give us victory over death? These were important questions to early Christians. John is in the midst of a vision of God’s throne and the heavenly scene around it. He describes the scene using symbols, only some of which have meanings known to us. Around God’s throne are “twenty-four elders” (4:4, perhaps patriarchs and apostles), spirits, and “four living creatures” (4:6, representing creation). These are symbols from the Old Testament. A “Lamb” (Christ) is the only one worthy to open a scroll sealed with seven seals, containing God’s plans for the end-time (5:9). Then, as each seal is opened, we learn of the events of the end-time.
Opening the first seal reveals a “white horse” (6:2) and rider, which symbolize a conquering power none can resist. Opening the next three (6:3-8) show sinister events: mutual slaughter of people, a terrible famine, and Death bringing death, famine and plague. These are Jewish expectations found in 2 Esdras. When the fifth seal is opened, John sees the souls of those martyred for the faith, who ask: Lord, how long will it be before you judge, and render justice, on those who killed us? (6:10) Each soul receives a robe of victory and joy, but must wait until all to be martyred have been killed; only then will the end-times begin. As stated in 2 Esdras, natural catastrophes will herald the coming of the Day of the Lord (6:12). At that time, the self-centred will seek refuge, for the Lamb will judge them adversely (6:15-17). Chapter 7 contains two visions, telling us that God’s people will be safe from these horrors. Vv. 1-8 say that the end-time will be delayed until the godly have been marked with God’s seal, protection from the destruction to come. Those to be protected include both Christians and Jews. The second vision, our reading, tells us that Christians will survive the troubles.
“Palm branches” (v. 9), a sign of victory and thanksgiving, were strewn on the road during victory parades. In vv. 11-12, the whole court of heaven join the “great multitude” (v. 9), the elect, in praising God, in triumph. Then v. 14: the elect are the members of the Church who have remained faithful through the end-times (“great ordeal”); they have received the gift of Christ, (purity, sinlessness), through his death (“made them white in the blood of the Lamb”). So they ceaselessly celebrate a celestial liturgy in God’s presence, protected by him (“shelter them”, v. 15). Vv. 16-17 tell of their happiness, using metaphors from previous books of the Bible. Christians will no longer suffer.

The theory that the seven seals depict the last stages of world history is supported by the fact that many Jewish apocalypses contain symbolic reviews of history (Daniel, 1 Enoch, and 2 Baruch), but most commentators have rejected this view. This conclusion is supported by the similarity between the seals and the messianic woes in the Synoptic gospels (see Matthew 23:13ff). The seals depict in summary form the eschatological future. The two visions describe the same events from a different perspective and in varying detail. [NJBC]

Comments: It was also a time of persecution: some died for the faith: Empire-wide persecution of Christians likely began in the second century, i.e. after this book was written. It is known that there were local persecutions. We probably do not know of all of them, but of those that are known, none was in eastern Asia Minor in the first century.

Comments: the Antichrist: 1 John 2:18 says: “Children, it is the last hour! As you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. From this we know that it is the last hour”. 1 John 2:22 asks: “Who is the liar but the one who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, the one who denies the Father and the Son” and in 4:3 we read: “every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. And this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming; and now it is already in the world”. See also 2 John 7.

6:1, 3, 5, 7: “... living creature(s) call(s) out ..., ‘Come!’”: It is not clear why this phrase is repeated for each of the first four seals. It may be that creation is inviting the coming of the final consummation.

6:2, 4, 5, 8: “horse”: John appears to have picked up the images of coloured horses and riders from Zechariah 1:8-11; 6:1-8.

6:2: “white horse”: A general celebrating a victory often rode a white horse. [NJBC]

6:2: “rider”: In 19:11-13, the rider is Christ. [NOAB]

6:2: “bow”: A weapon characteristic of Parthian armies. The Parthians succeeded Persia as the dominant power to the east of the Roman Empire. People in the eastern provinces who were discontent with Roman rule looked to Parthia as a potential liberator. Chapter 17 suggests that John expected Parthia to invade, and to defeat Rome. [NJBC]

6:2: “crown”: A crown was a prize for public service in a war. John expects a Parthian victory which, in his view, would imply the destruction of the enemies of Christians. [NJBC]

6:4: “red”: NJBC offers flame-coloured. The “red horse” symbolizes war and bloodshed. [NOAB]

6:5: “black”: Black was (and is) associated with death, perhaps because of the darkness of the underworld. [NJBC]

6:6: The prices are 8 to 16 times normal cost. Oil and wine are the products of manufacturing processes in which the raw fruits are used to produce these products (in a form that can be more easily stored for longer periods), and olives and grapes are the result of years of work with the plants (in the case of olives, an olive tree takes 30 years to produce fruit) , while grain can be planted and harvested in a season (or less). So perhaps the indication here is that the famine will be relatively short-lived, i.e., for a season rather than for a generation. [NJBC]

6:8: “pale green horse”: The REB translates this as sickly pale horse. The colour may symbolize fear or ill-health or pestilence and death. That the man and his horse only have “authority over a fourth part pf the earth” indicates that the devastation will be widespread but not total. [NOAB].

6:8: “Death”: Death is personified in Greek and Jewish literature, e.g. Psalm 49:14; Hosea 13:14. [NJBC]

6:8: “Hades”: Hades was the name of both the Greek god of the underworld and of the underworld itself. Hades (the place) was the equivalent of the Jewish Sheol. Satan has taken over, but the devastation is not complete (“over a fourth of the earth”). [NJBC]

6:8: “kill with the sword, famine, and pestilence ... by wild animals”: The destructions recall the prophecies of Ezekiel 14:21. See also Exodus 9:3; 2 Samuel 24:13; Ezekiel 5:12, 17; 29:5; 33:27. [NOAB]

6:9: In Matthew 24:9, Jesus predicts: “Then they will hand you over to be tortured and will put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of my name”. See also Philippians 2:17 and 2 Timothy 4:6.

6:9: “under the altar”: The earthly Temple is a copy of the heavenly original: see Exodus 25:9 and Hebrews 8:5. A rabbinic work says that the souls of the godly rest under the heavenly altar. Leviticus 4:7 and Exodus 29:12 tell of the practice of censing the base of the altar. [NJBC]

6:10: “you ... avenge our blood”: Vengeance belongs to God, as Paul says in Romans 12:19. [NOAB]

6:11: “white robe”: It symbolizes the glorious body of the righteous dead: see 3:4-5, 18. [NJBC]

6:12: Natural catastrophes on a cosmic scale are predicted in Isaiah 34:4; Joel 2:30-31; Amos 8:9. To NOAB, they are not to be taken literally but represent social upheavals and divine judgement on the Day of the Lord.

6:15-17: These verses expand on Isaiah 2:10: “Enter into the rock, and hide in the dust from the terror of the LORD, and from the glory of his majesty”. All classes of society seek to escape from God. [NOAB]

6:16: “wrath of the Lamb”: The Servant of Yahweh, but also the messianic judge.

7:1-8: Israel here may be the literal Israel or the Church, the new Israel. It is clear that the second vision (vv. 9-17) refers to the Church. It can be argued that the first vision speaks of the literal Israel, there being 24 elders, 12 from the literal Israel and 12 from the Church.

7:1: “four angels”: In late Judaism, God was seen as regulating nature through the agency of angelic beings: see 1 Enoch 60:11-22 and Jubilees 2:2. [NJBC]

7:1: “four corners”: The earth was seen as roughly rectangular: see 20:8 and Isaiah 40:22.

7:1: “four winds”: Agents of divine punishment: see Jeremiah 49:36 (“I will bring upon Elam the four winds from the four quarters of heaven ; and I will scatter them”). See also v. 2: “to damage ...”. [NJBC]

7:1: “tree”: Trees were seen as particularly vulnerable to gusts of wind. Here they are a metaphor for all living creatures.

7:2: “from the rising of the sun”: i.e. from the east, the source of light and where Paradise was: see Genesis 2:8. People expected the Messiah to come from the east.

7:3: “marked ... with a seal”: Marking with a seal may be equivalent to the name of God being written on foreheads, as protection: see 3:12; 14:1; 22:4; Ezekiel 9:4-6.

7:4: “one hundred forty-four thousand”: 144,000 = 12 x 12 x 1,000. The number 12 was a symbol of perfection or completeness. While the word thousand occurs 489 times in the NRSV, of these 366 are precise only to the thousand. They are estimates. Of the 123 which include greater precision than this, most are in census and other lists. I consider that “thousand” as used here, and in the other 365 occurrences of this precision, is not intended to be precise: ancient peoples seldom (if ever) counted into the thousands precisely. So “thousand” here probably means many. 144,000 is too neat and exact to be meant literally: 144,000 = completeness x completeness x many. 12,000 from each tribe may indicate equality of dignity rather than numerical equality. Just as only God knows the number of hairs on a human head (Matthew 10:30), only he knows how many will be saved from oblivion. They are uncountable by humans but both complete and numbered by God.

7:4c-8: Twelve tribes are named, but:

  • Dan is missing, perhaps because the Old Testament describes Dan as idolatrous: see Judges 18:30-31; 1 Kings 12:28-30. Also, the earliest manuscript of the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs we have (which is late) says that the prince of Dan is Satan (in Testament of Dan 5:6). There the prophecy of judgement is linked to Jeremiah 8:16-17. This perhaps led to the Christian tradition that the Anti-Christ would come from Dan: see Irenaeus, Against All Heresies 5.30.2.
  • Joseph (consisting of the two half tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh) is doubly represented, for Manasseh is also listed. [NJBC]

7:5-8: Judaism cherished the hope that Israel would be completely restored with all its tribes in messianic times: see Isaiah 49:6; Psalms of Solomon 17:44; 2 Baruch 78:1ff; 2 Esdras 13:39-50. The first Christians asserted that this was fulfilled in the Church of Christ: In Matthew 19:28, Jesus tells his disciples “Truly I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man is seated on the throne of his glory, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel”. See also Galatians 6:16; James 1:1. John appears to share completely in this idea: see 21:12-14. See also 2:9; 3:9ff.

7:5: “Judah”: Named first because Jesus was from this tribe.

Comments: This book tells of John’s (see 1:1) visions of the future: 1:1-2 reads: “The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place; he made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, who testified to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw”

7:9: “no one could count”: This may be an allusion to God’s promise to Abraham: see Genesis 15:5; 32:12; Hebrews 11:12.

7:9: “white”: See also 3:4-5, 18.

7:9: “palm branches”: See also 2 Esdras 2:45-47 (“... they who have out off mortal clothing and have put on the immortal, and have confessed the name of God. ... they are being crowned, and receive palms”); 1 Maccabees 13:51 (the Jews enter Jerusalem “with praise and palm branches”); 2 Maccabees 10:7.

How this scene would play out in our culture? Perhaps everyone would be gathered at an Academy Awards ceremony, all on stage surrounded by video monitors? And maybe instead of palms everyone would be holding an Oscar? [Alan T. Perry]

7:10: For victory songs to God, see Exodus 15 (the songs of Moses and Miriam, after crossing the Reed Sea) and Judges 5 (the song of Deborah, after two northern tribes free Israel from Canaanite rule).

7:13-17: These verses are a brief interpretation of the second vision, set as a dialogue between John and the twenty-four elders. In Jewish apocalyptic texts, it is the interpreting angel who has this role. [NJBC]

7:14: “great ordeal”: The godly will suffer during the end-time, as we also read in Daniel 12:1 and Mark 13:19. [NJBC]

7:14: “made them white in the blood of the Lamb”: They are transformed, as Jesus was in his sacrificial death: see also 1:5; 5:6, 9. This may also be an allusion to repentance, conversion, and baptism. [NJBC]

7:15: “before the throne of God”: The greatest blessing is to be in God’s presence. See also 22:3-4. [NJBC]

7:15: “worship”: One commentator translates the Greek as serving. They are active in heaven.

7:15: “within his temple”: They are very close to God. [NJBC]

7:15: “shelter them”: Literally, spread his tabernacle over them. [NOAB]

7:16: “hunger no more ...”: Satisfaction of physical and emotional needs symbolize fulfilment of the whole person. There will be no more suffering as Isaiah 49:10; Psalm 121:6; John 6:35; 7:37 state.

7:17: “the Lamb ... will be their shepherd”: A paradox: the “Lamb” is “shepherd” as also in Psalms 23:1-2; 80:1; Ezekiel 34:23-24; Isaiah 40:11; John 10:11-16. [NOAB]

7:17: “guide them”: See also Exodus 15:13 (song of Miriam); Deuteronomy 1:33; Psalms 5:8; 86:11; Wisdom of Solomon 9:11.

7:17: “springs ... of life”: In Jeremiah 2:13, Yahweh speaks of himself (through the prophet) as “the fountain of living water”. In John 4:10, Jesus answers the Samaritan woman at the well: “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water”. See also 21:6; 22:1, 17; John 7:37.

7:17: “wipe away every tear”: See also 21:4 and Isaiah 25:8 (“Then the Lord GOD will wipe away the tears from all faces ...”).

8:1-6: The opening of the seventh seal leads to reverential silence. The opening of this seal serves the literary purpose of connecting the seals with the trumpets sounding in the next section. So the series of trumpets is included in the events caused by opening the seals.

Psalm 34:1-10,22

This psalm is an alphabetical acrostic, each verse beginning with the successive letters of the Hebrew alphabet, as are Psalms 9, 10 and 25. [CAB] [NOAB]

The superscription, “Of David, when he feigned madness before Abimelech, so that he drove him out, and he went away” does not match the details of the story in 2 Samuel 11:14-21. [CAB]

The teaching is typical of traditional wisdom doctrine: all goes well for the righteous who “lack no good thing” (v. 10). Wisdom literature teaches recognition of the supremacy of God over one’s life and the need to express this recognition by obeying his commandments and worshipping him. See also Psalms 1 and 37. [NJBC]

Verses 1-3: A brief hymn of praise. [NOAB]

Verses 4-6: The story of the psalmist’s experience. Other such stories are found in 18:4-6, 36-44; 30:6-12; 32:3-5. [NOAB]

Verses 7-22: These verses commend to the congregation (the just) the same kind of faith in God that the psalmist has, and assures them that God will never be found wanting. See also 32:6-11. [NOAB]

Verse 7: “angel of the Lord”: See also Exodus 14:19 (crossing the Reed Sea) and 23:20 (promise of the conquest of Canaan). Note the contrast with the actions of the “angel of the Lord” in 35:5-6. There he pursues the ungodly. [NJBC]

Verse 9: “his holy ones”: This is probably the only time in the Old Testament that “holy ones” is people. Usually the word refers to members of the heavenly court. [JBC]

Verse 11: “children”: Literally sons. One of the origins of Old Testament wisdom traditions is the home, where parents would teach their children right conduct. An address “to sons” is common in wisdom literature elsewhere in the ancient Near East. See also Proverbs 4:1; 5:7; 7:24; 8:32; Sirach 2:1; 3:1. [NJBC]

Verse 11: Proverbs 1:7 says: “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction”. Proverbs 2:1 speaks to the seeker of wisdom as “My child”.

Verses 12-14: 1 Peter 3:10-12 offers similar advice. [NOAB]

Verse 20: Fulfilment of this verse of scripture in Jesus is mentioned in John 19:33-36.

1 John 3:1-3

2:29-3:10: Differentiating God’s children from those of the devil: Jesus is the model of obedience, and God’s children follow his example. He was not understood by the “world” (3:1), and neither are they. Their future is to become like him, and to become pure as he is. [CAB]

3:1-10: NJBC splits these verses into two sections: We are God’s children now (vv. 1-3) and Those born of God do not sin (vv. 4-10).

3:1: “children”: John 1:12 says: “But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God” . Through God’s “love”, we become progressively more to resemble him. [NOAB] We are God’s children now. This has three consequences:

  • Christians do not belong to the world, which has failed to receive Jesus. See also John 15:18-19; 17:14-16.
  • Christians will live lives of holiness like Christ. See also John 17:17-19.
  • Christians are confident of an even greater salvation in the future. See also John 17:24. [NJBC]

3:2: “we will be like him, for we will see him as he is”: Like would know like was a common theme in Hellenistic religions. For the Johannine tradition, it is through Jesus that this will occur. Paul expresses a similar idea: we have the expectation of a future vision of God or divine glory: see 1 Corinthians 13:12; 2 Corinthians 3:18. [NJBC]

3:3: Hope of complete moral likeness to Christ motivates purity of life. See also Matthew 5:8. [NOAB] John presents two poles: either you belong to Christ and do not sin, or you do sin and belong to the devil.

3:4: “lawlessness”: Probably a reference to the time of the rule of evil forces expected to precede the second coming of the Messiah. If you sin (perhaps big time), you must be a child of the devil. [NJBC]

3:6: “no one who sins”: i.e. habitually and constantly. See 3 John 11. [NOAB] However, NJBC suggests that anyone who sins at all is not really a Christian. See also 2:5.

There is a tension in the New Testament over whether it is possible for the saints to sin, which led to much questioning later on (in the second and third centuries) concerning the possibility and consequences of sin after baptism. This led to the practice of postponing baptism until quite late in life, even to one's deathbed, for fear of an inadvertent sin leading to loss of salvation. Ultimately, this sort of practice was done away with as the matter was settled through an understanding that post-baptismal sins can also be forgiven. [Alan T. Perry]

3:8: See also John 8:44; Acts 13:10; Hebrews 2:14. [NOAB]

3:9: 5:18 says: “We know that those who are born of God do not sin, but the one who was born of God protects them, and the evil one does not touch them”. [NOAB]

3:9: “God’s seed abides in them; they cannot sin”: Here John seems to be saying that there is something within the Christian which prevents him sinning; however in 1:8, 10 John says that there is no way we can claim not to have sinned. [NJBC]

John 8:39-40 offers a similar sharp distinction between those who are real children of Abraham and those who are hostile to Jesus. The assumption in this passage in 1 John is that Christians are living truly worthy lives: note “righteous” in v. 7 and love fellow Christians in v. 10. [NJBC]

Matthew 5:1-12

The Beatitudes are part of the Sermon on the Mount. While Luke has four beatitudes, Matthew has eight. It is likely that the last beatitude comes from the early Church. The four found in Matthew but not in Luke appear to come from Psalms.

Comments: He speaks to his disciples, but the crowd is not far away: per 7:28, they too hear: The Sermon on the Mount extends to 7:29. 7:28 says: “Now when Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were astounded at his teaching”. [NJBC]

The parallel is Luke 6:17, 20-23. [NOAB]

Verse 1: “he sat down”: Oriental teachers usually sat while teaching. See also Luke 4:20-21 (Jesus reads from Isaiah in the synagogue at Nazareth). [NOAB] As Moses first instructed the Israelites from the “mountain” in Sinai (see Exodus 19), so Jesus teaches his followers from a “mountain”. [CAB] The “mountain” is one of revelation. [NJBC]

Verses 2-10: While in Luke Jesus addresses those who hear him on this particular occasion, here he speaks more generally, e.g. to “poor in spirit” wherever (and whenever) they may be. See also Romans 15:26 (“the poor among the saints”) and Galatians 2:10 (the Council of Jerusalem). [CAB]

Verse 3: “poor in spirit”: Isaiah 66:2 says: “... this is the one to whom I will look, to the humble and contrite in spirit, who trembles at my word”. [NOAB]

Verse 4: “those who mourn”: They mourn to see evil reign on earth. [NJBC]

Verse 5: As foretold in Psalm 37:11: “... the meek shall inherit the land, and delight themselves in abundant prosperity”. “Meek” means slow to anger, gentle with others, connoting a form of charity. [NJBC]

Verse 6: See also Isaiah 55:1-2; John 4:14; 6:48-51. [NOAB]

Verse 7: “the merciful”: i.e. those who pardon their neighbours (see 6:12, 14-15; 18:35), who love (see 9:13; 12:7; 23:23), especially who love the needy (see 25:31-46), and even love their enemies (see 5:44-47). [NJBC]

Verse 7: They will receive mercy on the Day of Judgement. [NOAB]

Verse 8: “pure in heart”: This is not synonymous with chastity, but includes it. Psalm 24:3-4 says that those who “shall ascend the hill of the LORD” are “Those who have clean hands and pure hearts, who do not lift up their souls to what is false, and do not swear deceitfully”. See also Hebrews 12:14. [NOAB] To CAB, it concerns clarity of insight about God’s will for his people, as stated in Proverbs 3:3-6. NJBC points out that while in the Old Testament this term refers to ritual and moral impurity being cleansed (as in Psalm 24:4; 51; Isaiah 1:10-20), in Matthew purity of heart stands close to justice and includes covenant fidelity, loyalty to God’s commands, and sincere worship.

Verse 8: “see God”: See also 1 Corinthians 13:12 (“... now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face ...”); 1 John 3:2 (“... when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is”); Revelation 22:4 (“they will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads”). [NOAB]

Verses 9-12: “peacemakers ...”: The faithful community will work to reconcile others to God. [CAB] The term “peacemakers” is based on the Old Testament word shalom, a many-sided concept involving total well-being. In Matthew, peacemaking is closely related to love of neighbour – and thus to the beatitude of the merciful (v. 7). [NJBC]

Verse 10: 1 Peter 3:14 says: “... even if you do suffer for doing what is right, you are blessed ...” and 1 Peter 4:14 says “If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the spirit of glory, which is the Spirit of God, is resting on you”. [NOAB]

Verse 11: “revile you and persecute you ...”: In Matthew 23:37, Jesus says “‘Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!’”. See also Acts 7:52 (Stephen’s speech). [NOAB]

All of the reward verbs are in the future tense, except the first and the last. Thus future eschatology is in view. [NJBC]

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