One of the topics I enjoyed thinking about as I wrote The World to Come is the presence or lack of presence of Israel in the book of Revelation. In this post, I outline the basic issue and in Part 2 I will make a case for a very strong presence of Israel in Revelation.
This is not an excerpt from the book, but I do cover this material in a different way in Chapter 6, “The Vision of John.”
How do most Christians get their information about future things like the afterlife and the ages to come? I’d say most get their information from reading the New Testament. The Old Testament promises to Israel get some play but not nearly as much. I’m sure there are a variety of reasons for this. The Old Testament promises are confusing the most Christians since they promise things to Israel. And when you are not part of Israel, what do you do with that? Do you assume that the promises are for Christians and not necessarily Israel? Many do just that. Or do you just avoid these texts because you don’t understand them? This is an even more popular approach.
So this causes a problem. If many Christians are not getting their information about the afterlife and the ages to come from the whole Bible, then there may be a problem of distortion. Further, if those who are getting information from the Old Testament are reinterpreting the text, there is again distortion.
Consider the basic trajectory of the Bible’s teaching about afterlife and ages to come:
1. Old Testament promises of a transformed Israel, a restored Israel, new hearts, Torah on the heart, circumcised hearts, agricultural paradise, a pure temple, the divine presence more directly with us, and so on.
2. The partial realization of these promises in the work of Yeshua on earth: demons cast out, people healed, some Israelites transformed, Yeshua’s intensification of the Torah, redemption foretold and enacted on the cross, and resurrection starting with Yeshua.
3. The teaching of the apostles about afterlife and the ages to come, culminating with the book of Revelation (I’m assuming some type of future significance for the book and passing over interpretations that deny any future reference).
Here is the thing. The Old Testament material is Israel-centered. Yeshua’s mission and teaching is Israel-centered (though that does not stop most interpreters from missing Israel in Yeshua’s teaching). But Revelation is encouragement to a mostly Gentile population in Asia Minor (and one being persecuted in some places by the synagogues).
Therefore, the place most Christians will get their information about the ages to come will be from a Gentile-centered (multinational, universalistic) text.
Isn’t Israel missing or at least highly diminished in the book of Revelation?
Don’t bet on it. See you next time.