The Book of Revelation: Mary the New Ark of the Covenant

McKellar_BookofRevelationAs we continue our study of Revelation, we have observed a series of three sets of progressive judgments involving seven seal-openings, seven trumpets and finally seven bowls of God’s wrath. The judgments appear to repeat and overlap, building to one final judgment. The seventh seal was opened in chapter 8. Chapter 10 and 11 is a build up to the seventh trumpet (11:15). In the interlude before the seventh trumpet, a mighty angel descends from heaven who is “wrapped in a cloud, with a halo around his head; his face was like the sun and his feet were like pillars of fire” (10:1). The imagery is reminiscent of the figure in Daniel 12:5-7. The cloud represents the glory of God while the halo or circle of light around his head may be a rainbow which signifies mercy. The fact that his face was ‘shining like the sun’ and that his ‘feet were like pillars of fire” (10:1) demonstrates that the angel reflects the exaltation of Christ perhaps as the New Moses. The term ‘mighty angel’ may reflect the angel’s name, for Gabriel means ‘strong man of God.’ It is interesting that this section builds towards the vision of a ‘women clothed with the sun’ (12:1) as it is the Archangel Gabriel who announces the Virgin Mary’s divine mission in Luke’s Gospel (Luke 1:26-38).

This angel is the central revelatory messenger in the book of Revelation. The ‘mighty angel’ connects Revelation 1:1 where God sends “his angel to his servant John,” to the message here in chapter 10, and finally to the concluding vision in Revelation 22:16. The mighty angel in Revelation 10 holds a small scroll which is already open. This symbolizes the fact that this is not a new prophecy but a reminder of the mysterious plan of God which has already been reveal to ‘his servants the prophets’ (10:7). Like the Prophet Ezekiel (Ezekiel 2:9-10), John is told to eat the scroll and then to “prophesy again about many peoples, nations, tongues, and kings” (10:11).

Again in chapter 11 John is given a task similar to the Prophet Ezekiel (Ezekiel 40-48). He is asked to measure the Temple. This measuring symbolized preservation from harm, but in the context of Revelation it is clear that spiritual harm is in view as we have seen many martyrs. The word used in the Greek for Temple is naos which normally refers to the inner sanctum of the Temple and not to its outer courts, which John is commanded explicitly not to measure (11:2). Given the connection to Ezekiel this seems to refer to the heavenly Temple and not the earthly one, yet the text moves on to refer to the trampling of the holy city for forty-two months or 1206 days (11:2). The Temple is symbolic of God’s people bearing witness and undergoing a time of tribulation. The time interval of forty-two months is taken from Daniel 7:25, and represents three and half years or half of seven years. This number symbolizes an imperfect of incomplete time.

Next, two witnesses are commissioned by God to give testimony to the earth (11:3-6). They appear to represent types of Moses and Elijah who literally give fire breathing testimony to the Word of God and bring plagues upon the earth. Although the imagery is subject to various interpretations, it is likely that these figures represent the church which is given to the nations to be trampled underfoot and who through these two representative figures bears witness during the time of tribulation. Either the whole church is seen to give prophetic witness or perhaps two representative churches are in view. The two figures are called “two lampstands which stand before the Lord of the earth” (11:4) and this is reminiscent of the seven golden lampstands of the seven Churches in Revelation 2-3. The witnesses are martyred and then resurrected and taken up into heaven. At the very moment they are taken up into heaven in a cloud, there is a great devastating earthquake (11:13).

After this interlude John’s vision returns to heaven, where the seventh angel blows his trumpet. After this, there is a heavenly announcement, “The kingdom of the world now belongs to our Lord and to his Anointed, and he will reign forever and ever” (11:15) and the twenty-four elders prostrate themselves and worship God in a hymn (11:16-18). Then the heavenly Temple is opened and the Ark of the Covenant is seen in the Temple (11:19). In the Old Testament, the Ark of the Covenant was the place where God was seen to be invisibly enthroned in the earthly Tabernacle/Temple (2 Samuel 6:2; Isaiah 37:16). To the first-century Jewish reader the image of the Ark would be remarkable since the original Ark of the Covenant had been lost during the Babylonian exile (2 Maccabees 2:4-8). The reference is most likely to the heavenly Ark which served as the prototype of the earthly Ark (cf. Exodus 25:9, 40; 26:30; 27:8; Hebrews 8:1-5; 9:24).

Even more astounding is the connection that follows. After another round of lightning and thunder, the next chapter opens with the words, “A great sign appeared in the sky, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars” (12:1). Some commentators have argued that the last verse of this chapter (11:19) is both the end of a section and the beginning of chapter 12. If this is the case then there is a connection between the Ark of the Covenant and the women who follow.

It is likely that the image of the women (12:1) has multiple layers of meaning but one obvious layer is that the woman is the Virgin Mary who is seen as a type of the Ark of the Covenant. The Gospel of Luke seems to draw a similar parallel in Luke 1. The Angel Gabriel says to Mary, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.” (Luke 1:35). This parallels the description of the cloud of glory which covered the Tabernacle and the Ark (Exodus 40:34-35; Numbers 9:15). Upon learning of the pregnancy of Elizabeth, Mary spends three months in the house of Zechariah and Elizabeth (Luke 1:26, 40). This parallels 2 Samuel where the Ark spent three months in the house of Obededom the Gittitie (2 Samuel 6:11). Elizabeth greets Mary, asking her “And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” (Luke 1:43). In 2 Samuel King David asks: “How can the ark of the Lord come to me?” (2 Samuel 6:9). Finally we are told John the Baptist leaped of joy in the womb of Elizabeth when he heard Mary’s greeting (Luke 1:44). This parallels David who leaped and danced before the Lord when the Ark arrived in Jerusalem (2 Samuel 6:14-16). In at least one layer of meaning, the woman clothed with the sun (12:1) is the Mary the New Ark of the Covenant who bears the Word of God within her.

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Wednesday
December 07, 2016
Newspaper of the Diocese of Kansas City ~ St. Joseph