"A New Approach to Revelation" by Tricia Tillin (Part One)
how the day of atonement Temple service sheds light on the book of revelation - The Reason for this Study
Why is it necessary to re-examine the Book of Revelation? Hasn't it already been interpreted "to death" and every last strand of meaning been sucked out of it and offered to the Church ad nauseum? Sometimes it feels that way. Even so, surprisingly, there is still massive disagreement and uncertainty about its interpretation.
I'm not going to offer THE definitive answer to everything. That would be arrogance. Nor is this article like the book-selling pages in which you scroll down one brightly-coloured exclamation after another until at the bottom you discover you have to buy a DVD or book to find "NOW! REVEALED: The Answer You Have Been Praying For!!!" .
As I mentioned in the Contents Summary, there will be readers here who exclaim, "but I already KNOW what Revelation means! I have no confusion about it and if you do it's because you haven't been taught the correct doctrine about it". If this is you, I urge you to stick with it and read as many parts of this article as you can. I only want to ADD to our knowledge not completely overthrow the classic interpretation. However, there will be challenges to the standard viewpoint, which I pray you will consider also.
There is certainly room for more understanding. Would God provide us with scripture that is too deep to be understood? Did He not promise that at the end of days (at least) the books of prophetic wisdom would be opened so that those in need of help and comfort would be reassured? These coming years will be the most testing and dangerous that the Church has ever faced and it is my belief that God will not leave us without the tools for facing up to them bravely and with revealed knowledge by the Word of God.
The Book of Revelation begins by assuring us of its intent: "to show his servants things which must shortly take place"
When I decided to follow up on thoughts I had while reading Revelation and other books of the Bible, I looked online to see if there were any similar studies. I found there were some similar ideas, but mostly from Seventh-Day Adventist or Preterist sources. I am neither. I am a futurist, but I was not discouraged, as the conclusions of those other studies were different to mine, and they didn’t hold to the plain meaning of scripture.
Later Note: I have subsequently found some studies from evangelical pre-millennial and messianic writers that spoke of the same ideas.
In essence, my belief is that much of the Book of Revelation is set into the framework of a celebration in the Temple, as John of Revelation would have remembered it. As I studied further, I became convinced the celebration was that of the Day of Atonement, or Yom Kippur, perhaps the most important, solemn and significant feast-day to Israel, and prophetic of the Day of Judgement.
(There are suggestions that the day of the festival in Revelation was also a Sabbath. That would be fitting, since the events described are both the Judgement Day, the Final Atonement AND the "Sabbath Rest" of the Church and world. This is explored in Part Four)
Naturally, Revelation does not describe a LITERAL Jewish feast day celebration. For us, those days are over. Jesus our High Priest has already fulfilled all the “types” and there are no more blood sacrifices (indeed there is no more earthly Temple building in Jerusalem.)
However, what references there are to the Day of Atonement ceremonies in the Old Testament and elsewhere are vitally important to our understanding of what is going on in the Book of Revelation as a whole. So much so, that I feel we cannot completely grasp the meaning of Revelation without knowing its framework. That is because in reality this Day (called simply THE DAY by Jews) is not a Jewish feast day, but a fulfillment of what John the writer knew was a symbolic representation of the Last Day, the Day of the Lord!
What Can We Learn?
From a modern-day Gentile perspective there is much in Revelation (as well as in other parts of the bible) that we fail to grasp. While this is true in general of "going the extra mile" (Matthew 5:41) and the "jot and tittle" of the Law (Matthew 5:18) for example, things become even harder when we study Revelation as outsiders to the context of John's day and his experiences.
While we can perhaps never perfectly enter into the mind of John of Revelation, it helps enormously to see his vision from his point of view. We can only grasp the significance of certain passages of Revelation within the framework of the Temple worship of John's day. This also holds true for other biblical passages, such as the importance of wedding garments (Matthew 22:1-14) and the cleansing of the Temple (Matthew 21:12). (Note: the non-essential question of whether or not the Temple was still standing when John wrote Revelation is covered elsewhere. See the summary page.)
Some scriptures in Revelation evade understanding outside their context, ie. the Temple Worship.
How many have struggled to explain in different (and some rather silly) ways the "open door in Heaven" in chapter Four? Who are the 24 elders and why do they fall prostrate? Why are martyrs seen "under the altar" in chapter six, and why are they "given white robes" (verse 11). What is the meaning of the silence in Chapter 8? Why is John taken "to the wilderness" to see the fate of Mystery Babylon in Chapter 17:3? Why are the churches lampstands? Why are the righteous urged to "keep their garments" in 16:15? Why does the angel raise his right hand in Chapter 10:5? Why does Jesus say "I stand at the door and knock" in Chapter 3:20? These and many more puzzling questions can be answered by studying Revelation as the Day of Atonement ceremony in Herod's Temple.
I can quote one learned author as saying this:
"...even in New Testament times...St John could find no more adequate imagery to portray heavenly realities and the final triumph of the Church than that taken from the service of praise in the Temple. Thus, when first 'the twenty-four elders,'representing the chiefs of the twenty-four courses of the priesthood, and afterwards the 144,000, representing redeemed Israel in its fulness (12 x 12,000), sing * the new song * — the former in heaven, the latter on Mount Zion — they appear, just as in the Temple services, as 'harpers, harping with their harps.' Possibly there may also be an analogy between the time when these 'harpers' are introduced and the period in the Temple service when the music began — just as the joyous drink-offering was poured out. There is yet a third reference in the Book of Revelation to 'the harps of God,' with most pointed allusion, not to the ordinary, but to the Sabbath services in the Temple." [Alfred Edersheim, The Temple:Its Ministry and Services Page 75]
Also, looking at Revelation alongside the order of service on the Day of Atonement reveals some surprising new facts about the people and events described. For instance, it shows us who the martyrs represent, and why the palm-waving multitude suddenly appear in Heaven. It provides a chronological sequence of events but also shows us where the events are a narrative (or interlude as I have called them) instead.
Was John a Priest?
Edersheim also gives support to the idea that the writer of Revelation was himself connected to the priesthood, or himself a priest. He writes:
"There is a marked peculiarity and also a special charm about the allusions of the 'beloved disciple' to the Temple and its services. The other New Testament writers refer to them in their narratives, or else explain their types, in such language as any well-informed worshipper at Jerusalem might have employed. But John writes not like an ordinary Israelite. He has eyes and ears for details which others would have left unnoticed. ... This, as we shall have frequent occasion to show, appears in his Gospel, but much more in the Book of Revelation. Indeed, the Apocalypse, as a whole, may be likened to the Temple services in its mingling of prophetic symbols with worship and praise. But it is specially remarkable, that the Temple references with which the Book of Revelation abounds are generally to minutiae by which a writer who had not been as familiar with such details, as only personal contact and engagement with them could have rendered him, would scarcely have even noticed, certainly not employed as part of his imagery. They come in naturally, spontaneously, and so unexpectedly, that the reader is occasionally in danger of overlooking them altogether; and in language such as a professional man would employ, which would come to him from the previous exercise of his calling. Indeed, some of the most striking of these references could not have been understood at all without the professional treatises of the Rabbis on the Temple and its services. Only the studied minuteness of Rabbinical descriptions, derived from the tradition of eye-witnesses, does not leave the same impression as the unstudied illustrations of St. John. These naturally suggest the twofold inference that the Book of Revelation and the Fourth Gospel must have been written before the Temple services had actually ceased, and by one who had not merely been intimately acquainted with, but probably at one time an actor in them." [ibid page 141]
Further discussions on whether or not the Temple was still standing and how John of Revelation was connected to the priesthood are found on the summary pages.
And so we can go on to look in more detail at which passages speak of Temple worship, and exactly which feast day this was supposed to represent, in prophetic terminology.
If you are interested, intrigued, confused, or just want to give me some feedback, please e-mail me direct: Contact Page
© 2014 Tricia Tillin-Booth. All rights reserved. Birthpangs Website: http://www.birthpangs.org/ This document is the property of its author and is not to be displayed on other websites, redistributed, sold, reprinted, or reproduced in printed in any other format without permission. Websites may link to this article, if they provide proper title and author information. One copy may be downloaded, stored and/or printed for personal research. All spelling and phraseology is UK English.