Sunday, June 13, 2010

Cascading to a New Creation

In my previous two posts, I discussed the six Creation Day "Great Passages" that are represented by Revelation Chapters 1-13.  These passages follow the structure of the creation account of Genesis as represented chronologically in the work that God performed from Day One to the Sixth Day.  The six sections of the text from Revelation Chapter One to the conclusion of Chapter 13 work through, in an allusive and a thematic fashion, the creation work of the six days.

In the end-times chronology, such a literary schema represents a fitting culmination to the "old order" of the creation.  The Revelation is describing a divine intervention into the final days of the old order in the same progressive order that the creation began.  The apocalyptic drama seems to be shaking the creation up in the same order it was created.  The end-times drama has taken the old creation out like a rug and is giving it a thorough shake-up and beating.  In the process, heavenly creatures are separating things out, sifting the wheat out from the chaff.  It is as if the old order of the world is being given a thorough inspection, so the "good" that is still in the creation can be preserved and rescued, like the animals of Noah's ark. 

But with the beginning of Chapter 14, a new work, a new order of creation, is also announced.  A "new song" is heard.  A new day has manifested itself.   But this new "Day One" breaks through like a ray into the old order in what I call a "cascading" fashion.  It cascades progressively through the three "dominions" of created things that the six days of the Creation Week represent to the Revelation author.  These three cosmological dominions represent the Genesis One created order as follows:

The works of the Three Dominions of the old order of the Creation:

The First Dominion -- "The Heaven and the Things in It" : The light created on Day One and the "creatures" of the Heavens that were created on the Fourth Day
The Second Dominion -- "The Sea and the Things in It": The firmament or "expanse of the sky" of the Second Day, the waters of the deep, and the creatures of the sea and the flying things in the expanse of the sky that were created on the Fifth Day
The Third Dominion -- "The Earth and the Things in It": The plant life of the Third Day, the rivers, seas and springs on the land, mankind and the walking/crawling creatures of the land that were created on the Sixth Day.

Notice the chronological pairing between the creation days above.  The poetic structure of the Creation Week in Genesis One is actually suggestive of such a pairing schema.  Day One, the Second Day, and the Third Day represent "stanzas" of a poem, which together represent one complete poetic cycle.  The Fourth Day, the Fifth Day, and the Sixth Day represent another, more elaborate poetic cycle which hearkens back to the works of the first cycle within each of these days in the same progressive fashion.  The Fourth Day hearkens back to Day One, the Fifth Day back to the Second Day and the Sixth back to the Third Day.  Day One through the Third Day, in other words, have established a chronology of three "dominions" that the creatures created on the Fourth Day through the Sixth Day go out and populate in the same chronological order.  This chronological repetition is what I call a "paralleled" chronology.

The section of Revelation from Chapters 14 to 19 works with the same parallel "dominion" chronology that the Creation Account uses, but the stepped order is reversed.  Instead of starting from the beginning of the chronology, beginning with the First Dominion, this section works its way backwards in three stages that begin with the Third Dominion, continues through the Second Dominion, and culminates in the First Dominion.  In the meantime, rays of a new order are peeking through.  A new day is breaking through, like light through a tear in the fabric. A New Day is cascading through the stepped chronology, until it finally overtakes it at the end, as the light of the old creation is snuffed out.

Here is the "Three Dominion" cycle that begins with Revelation 14:1...

1. The "Third Dominion" Passage (Rev. 14:1-20): The Final Harvest

Third Dominion in Creation: "The Earth and the Things in It."

Third Dominion Themes: Gathering.  Harvesting. The Exodus. Mountains (Sinai and Mt. Zion).  Man's control over the things on the Earth.  Naming/marking things. Receiving/having a dominion or something no one else knows about.

Look for the above themes in the letters to the Churches of Pergamum and Philadelphia and note how they appear in this passage.

2. The "Second Dominion" Passage (Rev. 15:1 - 17:18): The Wrath of God and the Harlot Who Sits on Many Waters.  

Second Dominion in Creation: "The Sea and the Things in It."

Second Dominion Themes: The "sea of glass" (firmament).  Clean/white linen. Pain and blasphemy.

Look for the above themes in the letters to the Churches of Smyrna and Sardis. This Passage includes a musical "break" sub-passage describing the plagues of the "Bowls of Wrath" (Chapter 16), and a transitional sub-passage elaborating on the descent of the "woman" in the wilderness (Chapter 17).  As with breaks in other places, both passages contain imagery from other Dominions; they are improvisational interludes. Note that the Seven Bowls of Wrath parallel the exact same Creation Day thematic chronology of the Seven Trumpets.  Both passages use the Creation Days similarly, but note the difference: in this case, the sun of the fourth "bowl of wrath" is not "darkened" (as in the fourth trumpet blast) but the dial is turned up the other way instead.  Power is "given" to the sun.

In the "transitional passage" of Chapter 17, it might be very difficult to spot any link to Second Dominion (Second and Fifth Day) themes, but can you remember where we last encountered a "woman" in the wilderness?  I believe that the author considers the "woman" in Chapter 17 to be the very same woman who was given the "two wings of an eagle" to escape the dragon in Rev. 12:14.  She was once like an eagle who could escape the dragon in the wilderness, but, instead, we encounter her here drunk and sitting on the back of a beast in the wilderness.  Apparently, since her last mention, she had failed to stay in the midheaven, in the Second Dominion (remember that the woman's origin was originally higher, in the Dominion of the Heaven above, among the sun, moon and stars).  The commenting angels see the "woman" as a First then a Second Dominion denizen who has progressively fallen (see Rev. 14:8 and 18:2).  She is now at home in the Dominion of the Earth.  I'll comment more about this passage below.

3. The "First Dominion" Passage (Rev. 18:1 - 19:21): The Angel of Light, the Darkening of Babylon, the Preparation for the Marriage of the Bride and the Lamb, and the Victory of the Heavenly Dominion over the Earth.

First Dominion in Creation: "The Heaven and the Things in It."

First Dominion Themes: Lamp Light. Paying back according to deeds. Singing and music. Truth and Wisdom vs. the false wisdom of immorality (the "deep things of Satan").  Faithful Israel vs. worldly and wealthy Israel.  the Rod of Iron. Sun, moon and stars.

Look for the above themes in the letters to the Churches of Ephesus and Thyatira.

...After this cycle we briefly go back to the Second Dominion in Chapter 20.  Here, Satan is bound in an abyss for a thousand years and there is a "first resurrection" that brings the righteous back to life.  Satan is released again after a thousand years, deceiving the nations once again and gathering them for one last battle.  Fire from heaven, however, consumes his armies and they are cast into a "lake of fire".  A little noted verse is Rev. 20:11: "Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat upon it, from whose presence earth and heaven fled away, and no place was found for them." Only the sea is left now!  The sea, and Hades summarily give up their dead. Apparently, the sea, death itself and the Hades (as well as, it seems, the "abyss") are all considered "Second Dominion" places.  Their dead appear before the throne to be judged and the great "Book of Life" is opened along with books recording every deed on earth. Startlingly, "death" and Hades itself are thrown into the lake of fire along with everyone whose name did not appear in the Book of Life.  After this conclusion, there is a "new heaven and a new earth and there is no longer any sea."  Now the Second Dominion is passed away and a totally new dominion of heaven and earth appear.  There is only one dominion now.

These seemingly insignificant and obscure references to the dominions of "heaven", "earth" and "sea" seem like apocalyptic arcana that we tend to ignore, but they actually figure largely and centrally in the text of Revelation.  The Revelator attaches tremendous significance to them.  However, we are ill-prepared to understand their import because we are not steeped in the "Creation Week" language that forms the back-bone of his cosmology.  If there is one single takeaway from all of this, just remember always that Genesis One is the lens through which ancient Jews understood the universe.  Our cosmology is very different from theirs, and, partly because of that, Revelation continues to remain obscure and befuddling to our contemporaries.

As an example, lets go back to the description of the woman's activities in Chapter 17. Chapter 17 is one of those wonderful asides in the apocalyptic drama that can only be fully understood in light of the Creation Day themes.  Without seeing how the Revelator is working cohesively throughout the dramas of the apocalypse using the Genesis One creation story as a cosmological frame, we will miss a subtle lesson building up through his very carefully placed symbols.  The woman first appears in the Dominion of the Heaven, clothed with the sun and surrounded by the moon and stars.  She falls down to the earth and gives birth to a son.  The dragon is cast down and immediately, he pursues her.  Ah, but heaven comes to her rescue and she is given the wings of an eagle.  The Second Dominion comes to her rescue!  The dragon spews forth a river to sweep her away in a flood, but strike two!  The Earth swallows up the river.  The Third dominion comes to her rescue!

...These seemingly small details and obscure corners in John's Book of Revelation suddenly unravel marvelously and pop up into clear sight when we are aware how the author is using the Creation Week compositionally and as a thematic lesson tool.  They add layers to the apocalypse that give broader lessons to those Jewish heads "full of wisdom" who knew their Genesis One cosmology inside and out.  These wise people would be able to follow these insignificant details with fine interest and knowing attention and build layers of meaning out of them.  They would also spot immediately that the drama of Chapter 17 relates back to the drama of the woman in Chapter 12.  They would know that this woman, drunk now with the blood of the saints, is Israel in the Roman Empire, that slayer of the prophets, that adulteress of the beast.  That is a meaning that totally escapes us.

I have talked a lot about the Creation Days, the first six, but there is a Seventh Day, the Shabbat.  In my next post we will talk about the Shabbats in Revelation.

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