Wednesday, July 02, 2014

Unchain the angels

14 saying to the sixth angel who had the trumpet, “Release the four angels who are bound at the great river Euphrates.” 15 So the four angels, who had been prepared for the hour, the day, the month, and the year, were released to kill a third of mankind (Rev 9:14-15).

Premillennialism and millennialism are susceptible to opposing weaknesses. Premils try to find real-world analogues to prophetic symbolism. But by sticking their neck out, they risk repeated decapitation. What they take to be the extratextual referent may be time-conditioned by when and where they happen to be living. Premil identifications are often premature. 

Conversely, amil interpretations tend to be unfalsifiable in a way that many premil interpretations are not. But the price they pay is for amil interpretations to dissipate into arbitrary allegories with vague analogues.

Interpreting Revelation is a balancing act. Take 16:1ff. This evokes the picture of a temple in the sky. Angels come out into the courtyard to empty the contents of their vials over the side. Over the edge they go, raining down on the earth below.

No premil scholar takes that literally. Yet that doesn't absolve us of asking what it was meant to correspond to. 

Take Rev 9:14-15. Detailed amil commentaries by Beale and Prigent make interesting observations about OT literary allusions as well as historical associations which would resonant with a 1C audience. But they don't get around to saying what they think this really describes.

On the other hand, Johnson's commentary exposes tensions in the premil position:

John here makes use of the ancient geographical terms to depict the fearful character of God's approaching judgment on a rebellious world. While the language is drawn from historical-political events in the OT, it describes realities that far transcend a local geographical event REBC 13:674. 

This is ironic inasmuch as premils, especially dispensationalists, typically think prophecies with a Middle Eastern setting will, in fact be fulfilled in the Mideast. What presumably causes Johnson to depart from that principle is the scale of the catastrophe. If the Euphrates overflowed its banks, that would hardly wipe out one third of the human population. 

So what does this refer to? Does it refer to an actual natural disaster? Certainly, in Scripture, some natural disasters are divine judgments. So we can't rule that out.

Or is it metaphorical? But if so, what kind of real-world event does it symbolize? 

It maybe that we have to take a wait-and-see approach. It is, however, interesting to compare this passage with modern developments:

Damming the Tigris and Euphrates, which was a flood control measure, creates the potential for even more catastrophic flooding if the dam fails. In a way, modern technology has made the ancient description more realistic.   

I'm not suggesting this impeding disaster represents the imminent fulfillment of Revelation. It does, however, shed an interesting light on how outstanding Bible prophecies, couched in ancient language, might be fulfilled in the future. If we translate the language into modern counterparts, this is the sort of thing it could refer to. 

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