Tuesday, May 01, 2007

The Wedding Feast of the Lamb & the Blood of the New Covenant (Part 1 of 2)

With even a cursory glance at the book of Revelation one can find numerous allusions to the Exodus and Passover traditions. In the Apocalypse one reads about God’s judgment of the wicked, summed up in a wicked city, likened to “Egypt” (Rev 11:8), who is judged with a number of “plagues” (e.g., Rev. 17:21). Deliverance is accomplished through a “Lamb”. The twelve tribes are saved from the judgment because of a “mark” which averts God’s wrath from them (cf. Rev 7:2-3).[1] The saints who have been delivered from God’s plagues are later seen standing by a sea, singing the “song of Moses” (cf. Rev 15:1-3; Exod 14-15).

It is important to keep this Exodus / Passover imagery in mind when looking at Revelation 19. There we read also read about the final defeat of the oppressors of God’s people and the deliverance of those chosen by God (=those written in the Lamb's book). This victory is associated with eating the meal of (the marriage super of) the Lamb. Moreover, chapter 19 contains allusions to the “Hallel” psalms (Psalms 114-18; cf. 19:5, 7 and "Hallelujah" in 19:1, 6), which were sung by first century Jews during the Passover.[2]

Moreover, in the first century, Exodus traditions came to inform hopes for Israel’s eschatological restoration from exile described as the New Exodus. In fact, the cosmic judgment imagery of the Exodus are frequently found in prophetic texts describing God’s eschatological judgment on captive Israel’s oppressors (e.g., Isa 14:1-2; Isa 35:1-10: Ezek 32:9-10).[3] For the prophets, the New Exodus was described in terms of the Old. Of course, many of these images are also found in the Apocalypse (e.g., the darkening of the sun, cf. Rev 6:10, the plagues of locusts, cf. Rev 9:3-11, etc.).

If one looks carefully at the allusions made within chapter 19, it seems clear that restoration imagery stands in the backdrop. For example John’s vision of Christ also draws heavily from Isaiah 62–63, which describe the restoration of Israel in terms of a marriage (Is. 62), when the Lord comes to crush her enemies (Is. 63). Christ is associated with a “name” which no one knows (Is. 62:2; Rev. 19:12); he wears a “crown” and “diadem” (Is. 62:3; Rev. 19:12); his garments are stained with blood (Is. 63:3; Rev. 19:13); and he will tread on the wine presses (Is. 63:2–3; Rev. 19:15).

In fact, as I’ve discussed in previous posts, the restoration of Israel was often linked with imagery of an eschatological banquet not entirely dissimilar from the supper described in Revelation 19. In fact, many scholars have recognized that the imagery here is likely alluding to eschatological banquet imagery.[4] This banquet is of course most explicitly described in Isaiah 25:6-8:

“On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of fat things, a feast of wine on the lees, of fat things full of marrow, of wine on the lees well refined. 7 And he will destroy on this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations. 8 He will swallow up death for ever, and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth; for the Lord has spoken.”
Other references to the hope in the eschatological banquet are found in Isaiah 30:29, Ezekiel 39:17-20, 1Q28a 2 and 1 Enoch 62:14.

In connection with this, the restoration is frequently connected with the image of the Lord feeding his people (Isa 40:11; 49:10; 58:12; Jer 50:19; Ezek 34:13-16, 23; Mic 5:4; 7:14). This concept is probably present in other texts where the restoration is linked to the Lord providing Israel with an abundance of grain and wine (Isa 23:18; 62:8; Jer 31:10-14; Ezek 36:29; Joel 2:19; Amos 5:14-15; 2 Baruch 29:3-30:1). In Ezekiel and 1 Enoch those in the renewed Jerusalem are to eat fruit from trees evoking the tree of life in Eden (Ezek 47:12; 48:18-19; 1 Enoch 25:4-5; cf. 4 Ezra 7:123).[5]

Above I mentioned that Revelation 19 seems to allude to Isaiah 62-63. It should be pointed out that there we encounter what could be construed as images associated with the eschatological banquet traditions. Isaiah 62 links the ingathering of Israel promises such as, “I will not again give your grain to be food for your enemies, and foreigners shall not drink your wine…but those who garner it shall eat it… and those who gather it shall drink it…” (Isa 62:8). Isaiah 61:5 explains that “Aliens shall stand and feed your flocks, foreigners shall be your plowmen and vinedressers.” Presumably this means that there will be an abundance of grain (“plowmen”) and wine (“vinedressers”).

What is fascinating is that in addition to promises concerning bountiful food and drink both Isaiah 61 and 62 also link nuptial imagery to the eschatological restoration of God’s people.

Isaiah 61:10: I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my soul shall exult in my God; for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation, he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.

Isaiah 62:4-5: You shall no more be termed Forsaken, and your land shall no more be termed Desolate; but you shall be called My delight is in her, and your land Married; for the Lord delights in you, and your land shall be married. 5 For as a young man marries a virgin, so shall your sons marry you, and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you.
This would seem to confirm the view that the Isaianic restoration stands in the backdrop of Revelation 19.

Aside from the Old Testament references, however, one might also refer to one other important passage in Revelation, which also links Christ’s coming with a meal:

Revelation 3:20: Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any one hears my
voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with

It seems highly unlikely that the early Christian readers of the Apocalypse would not have interpreted this verse against the backdrop of the Eucharist. In fact, other commentators have made this point.[6]

If the image of Christ coming to “dine” (δειπνέω, deipneō) in Revelation 3:20 is Eucharistic, there is no reason to deny a Eucharistic backdrop of the supper / dinner (δεῖπνον, deipnon) of Revelation 19:9―indeed, it makes such a backdrop more likely. In fact, both contexts speak of the coming of Christ in connection with such supper imagery. Moreover, as Minear has shown, it seems clear that other promises made in the seven letters in chapters 2-3 are revisited at the end of the book, highlighting Christ’s faithfulness to his words:
• a share in the fruit of the Tree of Life: 2:7; 22:2
• the New Jerusalem, which comes down from heaven: 3:12; 21:2, 10
• dwelling in the temple of the New Jerusalem: 3:12; 21:22
• God’s name is written on the saints: 3:12; 22:4
• being written in the book of life: 3:5; 21:27
• the morning star: 2:28; 22:16
• a share in Christ’s kingship: 2:26-27; 3:21; 22:5
• deliverance from the second death: 2:11; 21:7-8[7]
Yet, the convergence of the image of the eschatological banquet of Israel's restoration, nuptial imagery and the Eucharistic celebration probably finds its origin prior to the Apocalypse. We'll discuss that in Part 2.
[1] The imagery of the sealing of the 144,000 is clearly taken from Ezekiel 9, which itself evokes the imagery of the Passover. See G. K. Beale, The Book of Revelation (NIGTC; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999), 409.
[2] See for example Massey H. Shepherd, Jr., The Paschal Liturgy and the Apocalypse (Ecumenical Studies in Worship 6; Richmond: John Knox Press, 1960), 78.
[3] For further discussion, see Richard D. Patterson, “Wonders in Heaven and on the Earth: Apocalyptic Imagery in the Old Testament,” in JETS 43/3 (2000): 385-403: “As a major covenantal theme, [the Exodus’] familiar images provided a ready vehicle for the judgment and salvation oracles of the early pre-exilic prophets, especially as the two became intertwined in the prophetic kingdom oracles” (386). In addition to the darkening of the heavenly lights, Patterson mentions other imagery drawn from the Exodus traditions in the prophetic oracles including that of an earthquake (Exod 19:16, 18; cf. Judg 5:4-5; Isa 13:13; 29:6; Joel 3:16 [4:16] and the creatures of the plagues, e.g., locusts (Exod 10:3-20; Amos 4:10-11; 7:1-2; Joel 2:2-12). Also see my fellow blogger Brant Pitre's work, which points out that restoration follows the cosmic judgment themes in the oracles of Isaiah and Ezkeiel. Brant Pitre, Jesus, the Tribulation and the End of the Exile (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2005), 335. Indeed, there are also other passages which, though not mentioning the celestial bodies per se, speak of a coming day of judgment in terms of darkness and which likewise go on to describe the restoration of Israelite captives (Isa 8:21-9:7; 60:1-22; Ezek 34:12-16; Joel 3:15-21). Again, the imagery here evokes the Exodus tradition in which Israel was delivered through a series of cataclysmic events.
[4] See for example G. K. Beale, The Book of Revelation (NIGTC; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999), 9. For a further description of the eschatological banquet, see this post.
[5] For a fuller discussion of the issue, see John Priest, “On Note on the Messianic Banquet,” in The Messiah: Developments in Earliest Judaism and Christianity (J. H. Charlesworth, ed.; Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1992)), 222-38, who concludes: “The theme of a messianic/eschatological banquet was well known in Jewish and Christian apocalyptic thought. Although it is found in its developed form in only a surprisingly few texts, its pervasiveness is attested by allusions to it which can be given without explanation or comment” (237). Also see James D. G. Dunn, Jesus Remembered (vol. 1 in Christianity in the Making; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003), 394.
[6] For example see G. B. Caird, The Revelation of Saint John (BNTC; London; A & C Black, 1966), 58: “The promise that Christ will come in and have supper has a Eucharistic flavour about it. The mention of a supper with Christ could hardly fail to conjure up pictures of the last supper in the upper room and of subsequent occasions when that meal had been re0enacted as the symbol of Christ’s continuing presence. This reference to the Lord’s Supper is of peculiar importance for our understanding of John’s theology: for that sacrament is a clear indication that the early church believed in a coming of Christ which was an anticipation of his Parouisa. Just as the Jews had kept the Passover as a memorial of God’s saving act at the Exodus and as a foretaste in the messianic banquet in the kingdom of God, so Christians celebrated the Lord’s Supper to ‘proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes’ (1 Cor xi. 26). Week by week, past and future met in the sacramental Now, in which the crucified and regnant Lord made his presence known to his disciples in the breaking of the bread.” Caird goes on to say that the passage while retaining a eucharistic allusion is ultimately speaking of a “more intimate” coming of the Lord, though he does not explain what that might be. Commentators will sometimes argue that since Revelation 3:20 lacks a reference to a “corporate” dimension, a Eucharistic interpretation is less likely. Such a view, however, neglects the fact that an “individual” and “corporate” dimension could exist side by side, as it seems to for Paul, who speaks about personal examination of conscience prior to reception of the sacrament (cf. the use of the plural in 1 Cor 11:26 and the singular in 11:27-29).
[7] Adapted from Minear, P. S. I Saw A New Earth: An Introduction to the Visions of the Apocalypse (Washington, OR: Corpus Press, 1969), 59-61.

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