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RLGN 1302 Week 10. The Johannine Epistles. The Johannine Epistles. This group of three short letters are written to a community that was undergoing difficulties due to gnostically inclined heretics (1 and 2 John) and the rejection of apostolic authority (3 John).

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RLGN 1302 Week 10

The Johannine Epistles


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The Johannine Epistles

  • This group of three short letters are written to a community that was undergoing difficulties due to gnostically inclined heretics (1 and 2 John) and the rejection of apostolic authority (3 John).

  • The vocabulary, style, and eschatology of the letters bear great similarity to the gospel of John. The letters themselves, however, are anonymous.


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The Johannine Epistles (Continued)

  • The three primary motifs in 1 and 2 John are:

    • Correct Christology: Jesus is the Christ who has come in the flesh;

    • Love of the brothers;

    • Righteous living.


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The Johannine Epistles (Continued)

  • The author of 1 John deliberately echoes the prologue of the gospel of John with his use of the term “beginning.” Here, however, “beginning” refers to the start of the Christ event.


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The Johannine Epistles (Continued)

  • The author reinforces the fact that he was an eyewitness to the Christ event (1:1). The sensory validation of the witness is given to challenge the gnostic notion that Christ only appeared to be human or that the Christ possessed the man Jesus at His Baptism and abandoned Him on the cross.


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The Johannine Epistles (Continued)

  • The author of the epistles, like the author of the gospel is fond of dualistic language: good vs. evil, light vs. darkness, life vs. death, truth vs. lies. Of course those who have been faithful to His understanding of orthodoxy are good, while those who have turned away are evil.


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The Johannine Epistles (Continued)

  • Evidently, the author’s opponents had libertine tendencies, that is, they believed that because the spiritual realm and the physical realm were completely disconnected, they could live in their earthly bodies in any manner they chose with no impact on their spiritual lives.


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The Johannine Epistles (Continued)

  • The author challenges this contention by stating that a life of habitual sin was contrary to the character of God and those who lived such demonstrated that they were not in fellowship with Him.


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The Johannine Epistles (Continued)

  • On the other hand, those that claimed sinless perfection were self-deceived because God sent Jesus precisely to deal with our sin.

  • Only those who confess their sin will be forgiven and cleansed from it (1:9).


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The Johannine Epistles (Continued)

  • In ch. 2, the author emphasizes the need for his readers to have a correct Christology (1-2), live righteously (3-6), and love those in the community of faith (7-11). This pattern ultimately validates their faith.


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The Johannine Epistles (Continued)

  • There are several echoes of the gospel in this portion of the letter:

    • Obedience to the command to love;

    • The need for genuine believers to abide (μενειν).

    • The challenge to reject the world (κοσμος).


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The Johannine Epistles (Continued)

  • In 2:18 the author begins a discussion of the antichrist. Only this author employs this word (αντíχριστος). He uses it five times: 1 John 2:18 (X2), 2:22, 4:3, and 2 John 1:7. This term is found in no other place in the Bible.


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The Johannine Epistles (Continued)

  • The term αντíχριστος is from the same tradition as Paul’s “Man of Lawlessness” (2 Thess. 2:3). For Paul, this was an individual who was “evil incarnate.” For the author of 1 and 2 John, however, this was more of a prevalent attitude or spirit present in those who denied the true humanity of Jesus as God’s Christ.


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The Johannine Epistles (Continued)

  • In ch. 3, the author repeats the three main themes with an emphasis to give practical expression to άγαπη (3:17-18).

  • In ch. 4, the author challenges his readers to use discernment with regard to those to whom they give an ear.


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The Johannine Epistles (Continued)

  • Ch. 5 reiterates the main themes.

  • 2 John re-emphasizes the three main themes of 1 John.

  • 3 John deals with the rejection of apostolic authority by one member, a Diatrophes, who, against the directions of the author, has ordered others members of the community not to receive the itinerant preachers who come to them.


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Revelation

  • The genre of the book of Revelation is apocalyptic.

  • The roots of this category of literature is debated by scholars. Most think it grew out of the Jewish encounter with Zoroastrianism during the exile. Paul Hanson, however, asserts that it is actually the product of the conflict between the Zadokite priests and the descendants of Abiathar who were banished from the priesthood after Abithar sided with Adonijah during the succession of Solomon.


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Revelation (Continued)

  • In its classic forms, apocalyptic literature is the literature of hopelessness. It grows out of a sitz em leben (setting in life) in which the writer and his group have given up on everything and have projected God’s vindication of their cause into the eschatological future.


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Revelation (Continued)

  • In John’s adaptation of this genre, however, he transforms it to the literature of hopefulness. In the vision he offers both challenge and comfort; comfort to those whose faithfulness has made them the targets of ostracism and persecution and challenge to those who have compromised their faith for the sake of temporal comfort and convenience. When interpreting Revelation, it is critical always to remember who the audience is.


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Revelation (Continued)

  • Some of the other characteristics of apocalyptic are:

    • Dualistic language-This may be a vestige of its Persian origin, but John uses it to emphasize that there are only two groups: those who belong to God and those who don’t.


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Revelation (Continued)

  • Other characteristics (Con’t)

    • Movement between heaven andearth-John uses this device to illustrate the correlation between that which believers are suffering on earth and God’s reaction to it in heaven.

    • Reversal-Things are not always as they appear. Those who appear in control, i.e., the Romans are not. Those who appear weak and defeated, i.e., the Christians, are not.


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Revelation (Continued)

  • Other characteristics (Con’t)

    • Angelus Interpres (angelic interpreter)-This character functions as a guide who explains those parts of the vision that are unclear to the visionary. In Revelation John uses several different characters in this role.


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Revelation (Continued)

  • Other characteristics (Con’t)

    • Symbolism-Apocalyptic is symbolic literature. It is NOT intended to be read literally. There is a wide variety of different types of symbols. In Revelation, the theology of the work is often IN the symbols. To fail to understand the symbols or to misinterpret them is to fail to receive the message the author was sending.


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Revelation (Continued)

  • Other characteristics (Con’t)

    • Symbols (Con’t)-Some of the more prevalent symbols are:

      • Colors:

        • Red-blood, death, war;

        • Black-evil, death, ignorance;

        • White-purity, good, age, wisdom;

        • Green-life

        • Χλορος (pale, sickly green)-sickness, disease


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Revelation (Continued)

  • Other characteristics (Con’t)

    • Symbols (Con’t)

      • Colors (Con’t)

        • Purple-wealth, royalty

        • Scarlet-ostentatious opulence

        • Gold-wealth

      • Animals

        • Lion-predatory strength, royalty;

        • Lamb-meekness, weakness, sacrifice;


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Revelation (Continued)

  • Other characteristics (Con’t)

    • Symbols (Con’t)

      • Animals (Con’t)

        • Dragon-Satan, in the various mythologies of the Mediterranean, this creature is always a loser

        • Beast from the Sea-a hydra-like seven-headed, creature that symbolizes the Roman principate


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Revelation (Continued)

  • Other characteristics (Con’t)

    • Symbols (Con’t)-

      • Astral (Star)-supernatural beings, usually angels, either good or evil.

      • Number-Nearly all the numbers in Revelation are symbolic. Great caution should used in interpreting these literally.

        • Two-required number of witnesses to present valid testimony in Jewish law;


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Revelation (Continued)

  • Other characteristics (Con’t)

    • Symbols (Con’t)-

      • Numbers (Con’t)

        • Three-A divine number, especially for Christians because of the trinity;

        • Six-A number of incompleteness, the number of humanity that is something less than God;

        • Seven-A divine number and number of completeness, a lucky number in many cultures;


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Revelation (Continued)

  • Other characteristics (Con’t)

    • Symbols (Con’t)-

      • Numbers (Con’t)

        • Ten-A number of completeness related to the full set of human digits;

        • Twelve-A number of completeness related especially to the twelve tribes of Israel and the number of Jesus’ disciples drawn from it.


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Revelation (Continued)

  • Ch. 1 opens with a description of the author and the circumstances under which he received the revelation (αποκαλυψις from which the name of the genre is derived):

    • A prisoner on Patmos

    • In the Spirit

    • On the Lord’s Day


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Revelation (Continued)

  • In 1:12-20 John provides a description of the person speaking with him. This description is heavy with OT imagery and full of symbolism. In each of the letters to the seven churches which follow, one part of the description will be included.


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Revelation (Continued)

  • The seven churches addressed in chs. two and three are, evidently, a group of fellowships in which John exercised some influence. While interpreters have read into (eisegesis) this portion of the work many things, the proper exegesis is to take the letters as missives to seven historical churches.


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Revelation (Continued)

  • The letters follow a typical form:

    • The addressee;

    • A word of description of the sender from ch. 1;

    • A word of sympathy and encouragement (except for Laodicea);

    • A word of rebuke (except for Smyrna and Philadelphia);

    • A word of challenge to faithfulness.


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Revelation (Continued)

  • The Nicolaitans and the woman to whom the author refers as Jezebel seem to refer to those who have introduced compromise of faith, perhaps related to participation in the idolatrous rites of local trade guilds.


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Revelation (Continued)

  • Some interpreters have posited a conflict between John and Paul on the matter of meat sacrificed to idols (ειδωλοθυτα) (2:14 & 20). I would suggest, however, that two different ideas are being discussed. For Paul, the issue is meat as meat. For John, the meat includes participation in the rite through which the meat is made available.


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Revelation (Continued)

  • Ch. 4 begins the vision proper. Some interpreters see in 4:1 a veiled reference to the rapture. This is eisegesis at its worst. This is the device called “movement between heaven and earth” that is characteristic of the genre.


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Revelation (Continued)

  • The vision in ch. 4 contains several bits of important symbolism. It contains the first two of seven doxologies. It discusses the twenty-four elders (2 X 12, OT and NT). It pictures God’s throne (itself a symbol of authority) in terms of a green bow of light.


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Revelation (Continued)

  • Ch. 5 contains another highly symbolic vision of the Lion/Lamb. On the surface this vision is contradictory or paradoxical, but the theological statement made by the symbolism is crucial as a word of encouragement to persecuted believers. Remember who the audience is!


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Revelation (Continued)

  • Ch. Six opens the cycles of judgment. There are three (number of divinity and completeness) interrelated cycles: seals, trumpets, and bowls. Each successive cycle is intensified in comparison to its predecessor. The various elements of the cycles seem to be related to the Egyptian plagues of Exodus. Although the intent of these judgments is to elicit repentance, those under judgment refuse to repent preferring death (6:15-17).


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Revelation (Continued)

  • Ch. Seven contains the first reference to the 144,000 (12 X 12 X 103). Although many see in this number either a literalcount of the saved (Jehovah’s Witnesses) or the number of Jews who will be included, this number like all the rest in Revelation, is symbolic and represents God’s people in their totality. Note how the tribes are enumerated. God seals His people and knows precisely who they are and how many there are.


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Revelation (Continued)

  • Ch. 11 narrates the vision of the two witnesses. While the precise identity of these two is debated—some argue for Moses and Enoch, while others, Moses and Elijah—the symbolism fits the latter pair better.


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Revelation (Continued)

  • This is so because Moses and Elijah symbolize the Law and the prophets, which was a Jewish way of referring to the scriptures. This, then, would speak of the resistance to and rejection of God’s testimony through the scriptures.


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Revelation (Continued)

  • Ch. Twelve begins the discussion of Satan’s efforts to derail God’s plan. John’s use of dragon/serpent imagery to depict Satan clues the readers that Satan’s efforts are doomed to failure. He is a defeated enemy before he starts and they, in spite of appearances are destined for victory.


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Revelation (Continued)

  • Ch. 13 describes the infamous Beast from the Sea. He is empowered by Satan and forms one third of the evil trinity that forms an evil mirror image of the divine Trinity in many respects.


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Revelation (Continued)

  • Parallels between the two “trinities”:

    • Both identify their people (God in 7:3-4, the Beast from the Sea in 13:16-18);

    • Both second members die and rise again (The Lamb in 5:6, the Beast from the Sea in 13:3);


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Revelation (Continued)

  • Parallels between the two “trinities” (Con’t):

    • Both are worshiped as divine (God in ch. 4; the Lamb in ch.5; the dragon and the beast in 13:4)

    • Miracles are associated with both groups (Good in 11:11; Evil in 13:13)


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Revelation (Continued)

  • The so-called Battle of Armageddon occurs when the forces of evil amass to challenge God’s authority (16:16). When the Rider on the White Horse appears, however, He slays them with the sword from His mouth (19:15,21); hence, there is really no battle because no one can resist power of the divine word.


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Revelation (Continued)

  • The fall of Babylon (a code word for Rome) in narrated in chs. 17 and 18. In this section, it is interesting to note that God does not directly destroy Rome. The powers of Rome actually turn on itself and it self-destructs. Everyone that has cast his lot with Rome is destroyed with her. This is a warning to the Laodicean types who have compromised their faith to enjoy the benefits of Roman prosperity.


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Revelation (Continued)

  • In ch. 20 the details of the so-called Millennium are narrated. The real question is whether or not this should be understood as a literal 1000 year period of time. Remember that apocalyptic is symbolic in nature, including the numbers. Probably, the intention of this section is to demonstrate the inherent nature of evil in humanity. In spite of the fact that God creates another edenic setting, evil once again is manifested, that is, Satan is given a place.


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Revelation (Continued)

  • The New Jerusalem-In ch. 21 John’s vision describes salvation come to its final fruition. The New Jerusalem represents the final defeat of the edenic curse. It is filled with rich imagery that speaks specifically to the situation of the readers. (Remember who the audience is.)


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Revelation (Continued)

  • Ch. 22 constitutes the conclusion of John’s vision. In this passage, the Risen Christ offers words of challenge and comfort, as well as a word of warning against changing the words of the vision.


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Revelation (Continued)

  • From the perspective of inspiration, it is interesting to note that the final arrangement of the Christian Bible begins in Eden and ends in Eden. Everything between represents humanity’s journey and God’s provision.


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