When John presents material in groups of seven, he sometimes uses the word “seven;” there are, for example, “seven stars,” “seven lamp stands,” “seven churches,” and “seven seals.” At other times John’s prophetic book has implicit sevens, such the heavenly encomium that lists (1) power, (2) riches, (3) wisdom, (4) strength, (5) honor, (6) glory, and (7) blessing (Rev. 5:12). Whether implicit or explicit these groupings of seven are called heptads.
One of John’s implicit heptads begins in chapter one (Rev. 1:3) and comes to its conclusion in the final chapter of Revelation (22:7). This particular heptad is identified generally by John’s use of the phrase “Blessed (Greek, makarios) is the one . . . .” or “Blessed (Greek, makarioi) are those . . . .” When we look at these seven teachings about blessings (Rev. 1:3; 14:13; 16:15; 19:9; 20:6; 22:7, 14), it is more than just a little interesting that two (Rev. 1:3; 22:7) of the seven blessings of this particular heptad are related to the hearer “keeping” the words of John’s prophetic book. How does one do that?
More than one interpreter of Revelation has questioned whether it is possible to “keep the words” of a book of visions. The theologically young Martin Luther raised such a question. His comment on this issue can be found within his generally disparaging views about the entire book of Revelation that were written in his 1522 introduction to the New Testament. Luther wrote (in Luther’s later edition of the New Testament his ideas on the book of Revelation were more pious and orthodox sounding),
I say what I feel. I miss more than one thing in this book, and it makes me consider it to be neither apostolic nor prophetic. First and foremost, the apostles do not deal with visions, but prophesy in clear and plain words. . . . For it befits the apostolic office to speak clearly of Christ and his deeds, without images and visions. . . . Again, they are suppose to be blessed who keep what is written in this book; and yet no one knows what that is, to say nothing of keeping it.
Notwithstanding Luther’s criticisms, it is clear that John was doing what he was told to do, since Christ commanded him “Write on a scroll what you see” (Rev. 1:11a). Perhaps Luther had a memory lapse [or worse, was only a left brain theologian], for there were certainly many examples in the Hebrew Scriptures of God’s prophets “seeing” a message from God, rather than merely “hearing” a message from God. In Hebrew prophecy it is not just a matter of a “word from the Lord,” but also a “vision from the Lord.” As we will see, Revelation is not the only book of Scripture that requires an appreciation for the visual, the imaginative, and the poetic in order to interpret it carefully.
Isaiah the prophet, for example, reveals that, “The vision concerning Judah and Jerusalem that Isaiah son of Amoz saw during the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah, kings of Judah” (Isa. 1:1) and “The word that Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem” (Isa. 2:1) and “The oracle concerning Babylon which Isaiah the son of Amoz saw” (Isa. 13:1).
Amos the prophet similarly wrote, “The words of Amos, one of the shepherds of Tekoa—what he saw concerning Israel two years before the earthquake, when Uzziah was king of Judah and Jeroboam son of Jehoash was king of Israel” (Amos 1:1).
Micah the prophet reports, “The word of the LORD that came to Micah of Moresheth during the reigns of Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah, kings of Judah—the vision he saw concerning Samaria and Jerusalem” (Micah 1:1).
Ezekiel the prophet confirms a related experience when writing, “the heavens were opened and I saw visions of God” (Ezek. 1:1) and “I looked, and I saw a figure like that of a man. From what appeared to be his waist down he was like fire” (Ezek. 8:2).
Obadiah the prophet begins, “The vision of Obadiah. Thus says the Lord GOD concerning Edom — We have heard a report from the LORD” (Obad. 1:1a).
Nahum the prophet indicates a similar experience when he reports, “An oracle concerning Nineveh. The book of the vision of Nahum the Elkoshite. The LORD is a jealous and avenging God; the LORD takes vengeance and is filled with wrath” (Nah. 1:1).
TO BE CONTINUED IN THE NEXT POST