Revelation Jewish New Testament, JNT, CJNT, David H. Stern

chapter 4
1. After these things, I looked; and there before me was a door standing open in heaven; and the voice like a trumpet which I had heard speaking with me before said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must happen after these things.”
Futurists who are also Dispensationalists find in this verse an indication of the Church's Pre-Tribulation Rapture (on the terminology and theological background of this note see 1:1N, 1 Th 4:l5b-17N). Clearly at this point Yochanan's visions shift from earth to heaven (there are many shifts in the book of Revelation; see R. H. Charles's commentary, Volume 1, p. 109), but nothing is said about removing believers. The Pre-Tribulationists' interpretation requires three assumptions:
(1) The sequence of Yochanan's visions corresponds to the sequence of events in future history.
(2) The Messianic Community (the Church, the Body of the Messiah) does not appear at all in Chapters 4-18.
(3) Those believers who come to faith during the Tribulation are not part of the Messianic Community.

Against these assumptions it may be argued:
(1) The text gives no reason to suppose that the sequence of Yochanan's visions is the same as the order in which the events depicted occur: therefore one should not assume it. On the contrary, 12:1—5&N provides a counterexample. Moreover, if, as may be the case, a given event is depicted by more than one vision, then a direct chronological correspondence is also impossible logically.

(2) It is not true that the Messianic Community is absent from Chapters 4-18. It is true that the Greek word "ekklesia" (usually translated "Church" and in the Jewish New Testament translated "Messianic Community"; see Mt 16:18N) does not appear after 3:22 until 22:16. But from this fact one might also infer that the Church does not take part in the marriage supper of the Lamb (19:7-9) or in the Millennium and Last Judgment (Chapter 20).

Believers are clearly present throughout the visions of Chapters 6-18 — see 6:9 (the martyred souls under the altar), 7:1-8, 14:1-5 (the 144,000 from the tribes of Israel), 7:9-10, 13-14 (the huge crowd from all nations dressed in white robes), 11:13 (those who give glory to the God of Israel after the two witnesses are resurrected), 12:17 (the rest of the woman's children, who obey God's commands and bear witness to Yeshua). 13:8-10 (those whose names are written in the Book of Life), 14:12-13 (God's people, who observe his commands and exercise Yeshua's faithfulness), 15:2-3 (those defeating the beast, who sing the song of Moses and the song of the Lamb), 18:4 (God's people called to come out of Babylon).

In most cases these believers are on earth, not in heaven. The descriptions applied to them in these verses are exactly those appropriate to members of the Messianic Community. However, the next assumption excludes them from being members of the Messianic Community; therefore assumption (3) must be addressed.

(3) The argument that Tribulation believers do not belong to the Messianic Community depends on drawing a rigid distinction between Israel and the Church, as do all Pre-Tribulation theologies with which I am acquainted. It is assumed that during the present era — what Dispensationalists call the "parenthesis" or "Church Age," defined as the period between Pentecost (Acts 2) and the Tribulation — God's clock with Israel has stopped at the end of the 69th week of Daniel 11:26-27 and he is now dealing only with the Church. After the Rapture, Israel's clock will again begin to tick, as Daniel's 70th week, the Tribulation, unfolds.

There is circular reasoning here; for if it is only believers who come to faith during the "Church Age" who are counted as part of the Messianic Community, and the "Church Age" is defined as ending with the Tribulation, then by definition no one who comes to faith during or after the Tribulation is in the Messianic Community, even though by every other criterion their faith is identical with that of Messianic Community members.

Moreover, for the following three reasons Israel (the Jewish people) is not as fully distinct from the Messianic Community as the Pre-Tribulationists would have one think:

(a) Gentile believers have been grafted into Israel, that is, into the Jewish people (Ro 11:17-24). Thus there is an indissoluble connection; they are not to be ungrafted at some future date unless they cease to have faith.

(b) The New Covenant, even though it creates the Messianic Community, has been made, not with the Messianic Community, but with Israel. (Jeremiah 31:30-33(31-34), MJ 8:8-12). The Messianic Community, if separated from the Jewish people, is deprived of its constitutional basis for existence.

(c) Sha'ul, a member of the Messianic Community when he wrote his letters, writes that he is an Israelite (2C 11:22, Ro 11:1). He does not say he was formerly an Israelite and has now left Israel to join the Messianic Community. Rather, like every other Jewish believer, he is both.

But if Sha'ul and other Jewish believers are members both of Israel and of the Messianic Community, Pre-Tribulationists must answer this question: when the rapture takes place, do Jewish believers in Yeshua stay behind with the rest of physical Israel, or do they join the rest of the Messianic Community with Yeshua in the air? They can't be in both places at once. Is it a matter of our personal choice? Do we have to choose whether to be more loyal to the Jewish people or to our brothers in the Messiah? This is an absurd question, absurd because the situation proposed will never arise. The Jewish believer does not abandon his people. He never has to choose between loyalty to the Jews and loyalty to the Messianic Community, except in worldly relationships — that is, in order to follow the Jewish Messiah, he may have to choose rejection by the Jewish community as presently constituted in the world.

Some Dispensationalists are not unnerved by this question but answer unequivocally, "It is not a matter of individual choice. Jews who accept Jesus are raptured along with other Christians. Only unbelieving Jews will remain behind to face the terrors of the Tribulation." But when told this Messianic Jews very often are unnerved. This is not what they bought into when they came to faith. They were told, "Now you're a Jew who has accepted his Messiah." They were not told, "Now you have abandoned your Jewish people and will spend eternity without them." Yet this is the clear implication of the Pre-Tribulation Rapture position, based, as it is, on the idea of two eternally separate peoples of God.

Israel and the Messianic Community are two, yet they are one. Overemphasizing the "one"-ness led Christian theologians to conclude that the Church had replaced the Jews as God's people. But overemphasizing the "two"'-ness yields errors just as serious, and, in their own way, just as potentially antisemitic. Messianic Judaism should set for itself the task of elucidating correctly the relationship between the Jewish people and the Messianic Community of Jews and Gentiles by means of "olive tree theology" (Ro 11:23-24N, 11:26aN; Ga 6:16N). 

2. Instantly I was in the Spirit, and there before me in heaven stood a throne, and on the throne Someone was sitting.
Instantly I was in the Spirit. Yochanan was already in the Spirit (1:9). This seems to refer to his experiencing a change of circumstances within his vision. 

3. The One sitting there gleamed like diamonds and rubies, and a rainbow shining like emerald encircled the throne.
4. Surrounding the throne were twenty-four other thrones, and on the thrones sat twenty-four elders dressed in white clothing and wearing gold crowns on their heads.
Twenty-four elders. Who are they? Four possibilities:
(1) Representatives of the 24 divisions of cohanim (see Lk 1:5N).
(2) The twelve emissaries of Yeshua plus the twelve founders of the tribes of Israel; if so, they represent all of redeemed humanity.
(3) A special group of angels, since at 5:10 they refer to the redeemed as "them" and not "us."
(4) Unspecified representatives of saved humanity in the 'olam haba. In this regard it is interesting that Yochanan's description, including the gold crowns and the worship of vv. 10-11, closely resembles the imagery used by Rav in the Talmud to depict saved human beings in the age to come:
"In the 'olam haba... the righteous sit with their crowns upon their heads and feast on the Sh 'khinah" (B'rakhot 17a)
(On "Sh 'khinah" see Paragraph (3) of MJ 1:2-3N.) 

5. From the throne came forth lightnings, voices and thunderings; and before the throne were seven flaming torches, which are the sevenfold Spirit of God.
Voices. Or: "ramblings"; see Ac 2:4b-13&N. The sevenfold Spirit of God. See 1:4N. 

6. In front of the throne was what looked like a sea of glass, clear as crystal. In the center, around the throne, were four living beings covered with eyes in front and behind.
In front of the throne was what looked like a sea of glass, clear as crystal. The description resembles that of Exodus 24:10 and Ezekiel 1:22,26. 

7. The first living being was like a lion, the second, living being was like an ox, the third living being had a face, that looked human, and the fourth living being was like a flying eagle (Ezekiel 1:5–10).
8. Each of the four living beings had six wings (Isaiah 6:2) and was covered with eyes inside and out; and day and night they never stop saying,:
"Holy, holy, holy is Adonai, God of heaven’s armies (Isaiah 6:3; Amos 3:13; 4:13),
the One who was, who is and who is coming!”
See 1:4N, 1:8N.
Although both Tanakh and New Testament teach that God is invisible (Exodus 33:20, Yn 1:18, 1 Ti 1:17), both report that people have seen God (to be specific, God the Father; God the Son is described differently in Chapter 5). Indeed, Yochanan's vision closely resembles several found in the Tanakh. Exodus 24:9-11 says that Moses, two sons of Aaron and seventy elders "saw the God of Israel" on "a paved work of sapphire stone as clear as heaven," very much like the sea of glass, clear as crystal of v. 6a (also see 15:2). The k'ruvim Ezekiel saw closely resemble the living beings of vv. 6b-8a (Ezekiel 1:5-11; 10:12, 14-15); he also saw a man on a throne with surroundings similar to those Yochanan describes in vv. 2-6a (Ezekiel 1:22, 26-28; 10:1). The prophet Mikhayahu (Micaiah) said, "I saw Adonai sitting on his throne and all the army of heaven standing by him on his right hand and on his left" (I Kings 22:19, 2 Chronicles 18:18). Isaiah wrote, "I saw Adonai sitting on a throne, high and lifted up" (Isaiah 6:1). He too saw winged beings (s'rafim) who worshipped God in language like that of v. 8b, crying to each other, "Holy, holy, holy is Adonai of heaven's armies" (Isaiah 6:2-3), a phrase which is part of the Kedushah ("Sanctifi-cation" of God) in the synagogue prayers (see the third blessing of the 'Amidah). 

9. And whenever the living beings give glory, honor and thanks to the One sitting on the throne, to the One who lives forever and ever,
10. the twenty-four elders fall down before the One sitting on the throne, who lives forever and ever, and worship him. They throw their crowns in front of the throne and say,
11. “You are worthy, Adonai Eloheinu,
to have glory, honor and power,
because you created all things —
yes, because of your will they were created
and came into being!”
This wonderful New Testament Hallel ("doxology," "expression of praise") is the first of several in the book of Revelation; others are found at 5:9-10, 12, 13; 7:10, 12; 11:15, 17-18; 12:10-12; 14:7. 8; 15:3-4; 16:5-6. 7; 19:1-2, 5, 6-8. See also Ro 11:33-36; 1 Ti 1:17, 3:16; Yd 24-25; and in the Tanakh, of course, the whole book of Psalms. 

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