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Apocalyptic Literature

The Jewish Apocalyptic Imagination

Our dreams are often filled with strange images. What happens when a prophet, steeped in the Scriptures, receives a dream from God? The resulting imagery is packed with hyperlinks to the Hebrew Bible. In this episode, Tim and Jon begin discussing Revelation and tracing these visions through the rest of the Bible.
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Episode Details

May 18, 2020
38 min

Episode Details

May 18, 2020
38 min

Show Notes


These prophets and priests return to Eden in these dreams and visions, and they meet a glowing figure there who gives them wisdom about what’s really happening in the world. Why are they all about this? What’s going on here? Once again, it all starts in Genesis 1 through 3.


  • The book of Revelation spans three literary categories: apocalypse, prophecy, and letter.
  • Apocalyptic literature reveals a world where heaven and earth overlap. When people in the Bible experience an apocalyptic vision, they glimpse God’s heavenly throne room temple.
  • Passages like Revelation 4 show us a vision of the Eden ideal—humanity ruling with God in the place where heaven and earth overlap and giving wisdom for ruling with God in the world.

Uncovering the World

In part one (0:00–5:00), Tim and Jon begin the episode by recapping the series so far. In the Bible, the word apocalypse does not mean the end of the world. Rather, an apocalypse is an uncovering by God to see the world as it really is. These revelations happen in Scripture through dreams and visions and are packed with strange imagery and symbols.

In this episode, Tim and Jon unpack some of the imagery from the opening pages of Revelation and connect it to the Hebrew Scriptures.

Glimpsing the Heavenly Temple

In part two (5:00–21:00), Tim and Jon talk about the opening chapter of Revelation.

Revelation 1:1-4
The Revelation (apocalypse) of Jesus the Messiah, which God gave him to show to his servants, the things which must soon take place. So he sent and communicated by means of his messenger (angel) to his bond-servant John, who testified to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Messiah, to everything he saw. Blessed is he who reads and hears the words of this prophecy, and keeps the things which are written in it, for the time is near. John, to the seven churches that are in Asia, grace and peace to you….

The first verses of Revelation tell us that this piece of literature spans three categories: apocalypse, prophecy, and letter—passed on in a chain from God to Jesus to his angel to John to the churches. Tim says that Revelation is a prophetic book about this prophet’s apocalypse that he communicates by means of a letter.

Revelation 1:9-11
I, John, your brother and partner in the tribulation and Kingdom and patient endurance which are in Jesus, was on the island called Patmos on account of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet, saying, “Write what you see in a book, and send it to the seven churches: to Ephesus and to Smyrna and to Pergamum and to Thyatira and to Sardis and to Philadelphia and to Laodicea.”

Tim points out the apocalyptic language of being “in the Spirit.” This echoes the opening chapters of Ezekiel where the prophet says, “the Spirit lifted me up and took me away” (Ezekiel 3:14). At this moment, John and Ezekiel see the overlap of heaven and earth. Similar language is used about David in 1 Chronicles.

1 Chronicles 21:16
Then David lifted up his eyes and saw the angel of the Lord standing between earth and heaven, with his drawn sword in his hand stretched out over Jerusalem.

Tim continues from Revelation.

Revelation 1:12-18
Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking with me. And having turned I saw seven golden lampstands; and in the middle of the lampstands I saw one like a son of adam, clothed in a robe reaching to the feet, and girded across his chest with a golden sash. His head and his hair were white like white wool, like snow; and his eyes were like a flame of fire. His feet were like burnished bronze, when it has been made to glow in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of many waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, and out of his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword; and his face was like the sun shining in its strength. When I saw him, I fell at his feet like a dead man. And he placed his right hand on me, saying, “Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last, and the living one; and I was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of death and of Hades.”

John sees a vision of Jesus dressed like a priest in a temple. Jesus is described as a son of adam from Daniel 7. John links the image of the son of man from Daniel 7 with the depiction of God on the throne.

As John writes a literary account of his vision, he’s helping us understand the meaning by connecting the language to similar dreams and visions from the Hebrew Bible.

A Vision of the Eden Ideal

In part three (21:00–35:00), Tim and Jon discuss further the cosmic temple imagery in Revelation 4 as a vision of the Eden ideal for all humanity.

In Revelation 4, John sees a vision of heaven. He sees someone sitting on a throne like the visions in Daniel 7 and Ezekiel 1. He also describes a sea of glass like Moses and the elders of Israel saw in Exodus 24. He then describes living creatures like the ones from Isaiah 6 and Ezekiel 1.

John sees an apocalypse while having a vision of this heavenly throne room temple, a space between heaven and earth. Like Genesis 1 through 3, John sees the place where heaven and earth overlap, where the true image of God gives him wisdom for how to live in the world. Biblical apocalypses show us a picture of Eden.

The Bible shows us how God is on a mission to restore humanity to the Eden ideal. Apocalypses are visions of this reality that are communicated to God’s people in exile. The imagery of the apocalypse is meant to transform our perspective in our present moment. Like a photo mosaic, we can glimpse God’s grand apocalyptic plan through individual apocalyptic moments in Scripture.

A Roadmap for Understanding

In part four (35:00–end), Tim and Jon give an overview of where they’ll go, from looking at the opening pages of the Bible to apocalyptic instances in the Hebrew Bible and Gospel accounts. The final step will be learning helpful steps for how to read apocalyptic literature.

Additional Resources Richard Bauckham, The Theology of the Book of Revelation Our video Temple

Show Music

  • Defender Instrumental by Tents
  • Memories of Spring by Tokyo Music Walker
  • Perilune by Aerohead
  • Jimi? Is that you? by David Gummel

Show produced by Dan Gummel.

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