“Good morning folks. For our guests this morning, let me introduce myself, ‘I am Hugh. I am the teacher for this Sunday School class. A few of us have studied the purpose of Mark’s Gospel the last several weeks. Refer to the last 2 week’s blogs for information: ”
“Today, we will touch upon seven important backgrounds for the study of Mark’s Gospel. These backgrounds will supply us with important information each time we approach the study of Mark’s Gospel. These seven backgrounds will aid your study of any Bible book. These will aid you in determining the intended meaning of the biblical author, and ultimately, the Bible’s Author, God.”
“Before, I begin to touch on the seven important backgrounds, let me tell you an interesting story which hopefully illustrates my point about not knowing essential background information.”
pirates of the Aegean Sea in 75 BCE failed to consider the background of a
Roman citizen they captured. This 25-year-old Roman nobleman had set out to
study oratory in Rhodes when the pirates seized him. The story is recounted in Plutarch’s
the pirates asked for 20 talents for his ransom, this nobleman scoffed because they
did not know who he was. He suggested they ask for 50 talents. The Roman nobleman
sent men from his own entourage to raise the 50 talents for his ransom and
settled in for a period of waiting.”
meantime, this nobleman ordered the pirates to obey him. Wanting to sleep, he shushed
them to silence. He recited poems and speeches to them, even when they didn’t
want to listen. He mocked them and called them illiterate barbarians if they
did not applaud his work. The nobleman played their pirate games with them. Yet,
always, he ordered them as if he were their superior and they were his
“Being such an important Roman nobleman, he threatened the pirates with crucifixion. They laughed and saw these threats as coming from a jokester who was boisterous and slightly insane.”
“Thirty-eight days passed, and the ransom arrived. The Roman nobleman left the island, raised a naval force in Miletus, even though he did not hold any political office or military power. He set out to find his pirate captors.
He captured them and returned the pirates to the governor of Asia. The local ruler wasn’t sure he wanted to do anything about the pirates, so Julius Caesar stormed the prison where they were held and promptly crucified all the pirates. If the pirates had researched the background of the nobleman they had captured, things might have turned out different”.
week, we will seek to define seven important backgrounds that every student of
the Bible needs to explore as much as possible before tackling a specific
“Hugh, can I ask a question before you get into our lesson this morning?”
“Of course, David.”
“Hugh, what difference does knowing this information make when we believe God is the ultimate author of the biblical text. His Holy Spirit inspired the writers to write what they recorded. So, does it really matter where the writers lived and what they experienced?”
“David, that is an excellent question. We have no doubt that God was the ultimate author of our biblical text as you say. But, God laid out eternal, theological truths in His Word. We want to know the principles he placed in the Word so we can extract from His Word what He intended us to live by in this world. Do we agree that God communicated to Abraham and Abraham obeyed what God told him to do? Didn’t that happen in a historical environment?”
“When Paul wrote his letters to the Ephesians, Galatians, as well as 1, 2 Timothy and the others, wasn’t Paul living in a special geographical location? Aren’t many of his letters direct results to circumstances happening in those places or to those people?”
This helps us ascertain the proper method to apply God’s Word in our lives. J. Scott Duvall and J. Daniel Hays, say, “We do so because it offers us a window into what we must recapture God’s original intended meaning as reflected in the text and framed by the ancient historical-cultural context.’ Does that help answer your question, David?”
Hugh. That helps.”
“Alright, allow me to write my life of the seven backgrounds on the board before I start my explanation.”The author’s backgrounAuthor’s Background
The video will explain and illustrate the 7 background
“Class, let me warn you about one thing related to the study of backgrounds. –
Please understand that these backgrounds are not always an end all. Sometimes details become the only thing one studies, and the principle of truth is lost or overlooked.
Matthew 19:23-24 mentions how possible it is for a rich
man to enter heaven. The possibility is connected to the ‘eye of the needle.’ An
explanation that never surfaced until the 6th century A.D. referred
to a gate where a camel would craw through it in order to get inside Jerusalem
“The problem rests
on the fact that the ‘eye of the needle’ refers to just that, ‘the eye of a
Jesus intended his
audience to understand the largeness of the camel and the smallness of the eye
of the needle. This illustration intended to show how hard it is for a rich man
to stop trusting in his worldly goods and turn to trust Christ for his daily
Do you value these seven backgrounds? Why or why not?
Do you spend time exploring these when you study a passage? why or why not?
Any other areas you feel should be studied? Why do you make this suggestion?
A NEW GOLD RUSH – WHO WILL STEP UP TO THE CHALLENGE?
Awake from his nap, Jason peered over his rusty, battle scared metal coffee mug. Jason watched the six hundred gold miners feverishly dig pot holes into the sandy and gravel bed of the creek. Each miner searching for easy gold. It is September 1851. Jason sat on his log chair on the edge of the shoreline in the bend of an old creek near Balarat, Australia. He had heard that the old miners deemed this spot, “Golden Point.”
Jason reflected over the holes he personally had
dug. Most of his holes seldom reached a
depth of more than three feet before hard clay was encountered. How frustrated
Jason felt as contemplated moving to another area to dig yet another three-foot
hole in search of that elusive gold. His meager tools consisted of a pan, a
cradle and a puddling trough. Most of
his miner friends as well as himself barely scratched out a mere half an ounce
of gold a day – if they were blessed.
Jason, like hundreds of other miners before him, abandoned
claim after claim here at Golden Point. Every direction Jason’s eyes scanned,
pot holes stretched across the horizon. He pondered on the thought, This hard
clay NEVER produces gold. To reach the hard clay was to reach the end of the
search for easy gold in this location.
Rumors had flooded the camp the evening before and most
of the miners broke camp heading for richer fields. More and more claims lay
abandoned until the old bend in the creek. Jason thought it looked like a
cemetery where someone forget to fill in the graves.
Jason was startled from his day dream by his older
brother, John. “Dig deeper! Today, we
must dig deeper! We have to dig deeper
than anyone else ever has! I believe the best gold lays at the bottom of this
These hopeful admonitions of John’s broke the early morning
stillness. The Cavanagh brothers vowed over the last evenings late supper of
warmed beans that they would dig deep for gold. As far as they knew, no other
miners before them had been bold enough to dig through the hard clay. John and
Jason theorized that century’s old rich gold lay below in an old creek bed.
The brothers selected an abandoned claim and began to dig
the hard clay. The Cavanagh brothers dug
with abandon. Inch by inch the brothers dug, only to find another inch of hard
clay. The brothers dug through blisters and through blood. Jason wondered if
all this effort would pay off or if the other miners would be correct? Would
there be no end to the hard clay?
Jason and John admitted they had dug the first day
without a hint of reward. The second day, the brothers determined to keep
digging as more miners left the Golden Point area for those richer finds
upstream. Some miners laughed and mocked
the Cavanagh brothers for their persistence in digging the hard clay so deep.
With resistance like two tug of war teams pulling a rope
in opposite directions, the clay put up a ferocious fight. But the hard clay
continued to slowly yield its hard contents as John and Jason repeatedly dug
and rested. First John would dig, then Jason dug. The process repeated itself
so many times the brothers lost count.
As the sun began dropping behind the horizon on the
second day, and after two back breaking days of digging the hard clay, the
brother reached between 6 and 7 feet. The Cavanagh brothers dared not stop
because of dark. Somehow, innately they knew
they were about to hit pay dirt. They dug until their lights died.
Finally, exhausted, John and Jason forced themselves to
try to sleep. Sleep proved to be elusive to Jason. His mind could not escape
what he hoped to see on the third day. In
the early light of dawn, the brothers surveyed their work and prayed this day
would be the day gold would be theirs. Sore and fatigued the boys went back to excavating.
Shortly, Jason stopped digging. He hit
something. It was a gravel layer. He
lowered his light into the hole so he could see better. He spied it. A large cache
of gold. He yelled for John.
Jason and John Cavanagh victoriously walked into Geelong,
Australia on September 20, 1851. The brothers both carried saddlebags filled
with 30 pounds of gold. News spread as far as Adelaide and Hobart in a very
short time. Every able-bodied man hurried to the Golden Point to dig through
the hard clay. Jason and John were set for life. Digging the hard clay proved
worth the effort and the ridicule.
How about today’s believer and the book of Revelation?
What about you?
The gold of Revelation may be like digging in the hard
clay, but the rich rewards await the faithful, diligent, and tenacious
interpreter. Gold can be found in the most
The tools we need to dig the riches of God’s gold from
Revelation include REMEMBERING the historical context and READING with purpose
HISTORICAL CONTEXT OF THE REVELATION
THE EARLY CHURCH’S EXPERIENCE
Early Christians experienced a growing and intensifying persecution
for their faith (Revelation 1:9). Specifically, the Ephesian church endured
suffering and hardship (Revelation 2:3). Even the church at Smyrna stayed
faithful through slander and adversity (Revelation 2: 9-10).
In the city of Pergamum, Antipas, a faithful believer
died for his faith. The church with little strength, Philadelphia, stayed
faithful to Christ and did not renounce His name (Revelation 3:8).
John, the Apostle, mentioned the faithful martyrs who
were slain because of the Word of God and their testimonies in Revelation 6:9. Revelation rehearses the frequent deaths of
the saints (Revelation 13; 16:5-6; 17:6; 18:24, 19:2 and 20:4).
THE ROMAN EMPEROR DOMITIAN’S RULE
The Roman Emperor Domitian (A D 81 – 96) appears to begin
this persecution against Christians. Roman historians, Pliny, Tacitus and
Suetonius describe Domitian as “savage, cruel, devious, sexually immoral, mad,
Suetonius states that when his brother Titus fell
seriously ill, Domitian ordered the attendants to leave him for dead before
Titus breathed his last breath.
Suetonius continues to paint a demented picture of Domitian as he says
that he would stay in his room alone for hours and often would catch flies only
to stab them with the needle-sharp pen.
Pliny the Younger, (ca AD 61-113) describes Domitian’s
[It is the] the place where . . . that fearful monster
built his defenses with untold terrors, where lurking in his den he licked up
the blood of his murdered relatives or emerged to plot the massacre and
destruction of his most distinguished subjects. Menaces and horror were the
sentinels at his doors . . . always he sought darkness and mystery, and only
emerged from the desert of his solitude to create another (Pan. 48.3-5).
Pliny continued to describe Domitian in his Panegyricus
He (Domitian) was a madman, blind to the true meaning of
his position, who used the arena for collecting charges of high treason, who
felt himself slighted and scorned if we failed to pay homage to his gladiators,
taking any criticism of them to himself and seeing insults to his own godhead
and divinity; who deemed himself the equal of gods yet raised his gladiators to
Domitian demanded to be called dominus et deus noster (our lord and god). For a believer to refuse to say words of
loyalty and allegiance to the emperor was equal to treason. This brings
trouble. He built a huge temple
dedicated to himself at Ephesus.
Christians suffered at the hands of Roman Emperor
Domitian, partly due to a misunderstanding related to the practices of the
Christian faith. Christians were misunderstood and vigorously rooted out. All a
Christian needed to do was to worship the pagan gods and the imperial cult to
be freed. Some Christians did just that.
Others refused to recant their faith in Jesus Christ. All
a suspected Christian had to do to escape horrible treatment, and maybe, death,
was to sprinkle a few sands of incense in the eternal flame burning in front of
the statute of the emperor. Those who
refused might be burned alive, killed by lions in the arena or crucified.
THE PURPOSE OF REVELATION AS HISTORICAL CONTEXT
Revelation presents those facing such futures with a
brighter future and a realistic world view.
Revelation stresses the need for believers to gain an eternal view of
the world. It presents the reader with the opportunity to worship the true God
with his host in heaven. It helps the reader see suffering as triumph in light
of the future glories presented by the Lord of heaven.
Revelation is seen as comfort to Smyrna and Philadelphia
who experience suffering now. It stands as a warning to the churches of
Thyatira and Sardis, churches that are already dead. The judgments found in Revelation
come as invitations for the world to repent.
SEVEN STEPS TO READING
REVELATION WITH PURPOSE AND AWARENESS
Seek to set aside your preconceptions, presuppositions, and preunderstandings.
Preconceptions, presuppositions and preunderstandings
color and possibly taint what we believe the biblical passage to mean. Often,
the reader uses these without any awareness or evaluation of them. Always be willing to read the text afresh and
recognize that your former understandings may need to be altered or
deleted. Retain a teachable spirit and
mind. Let the Word have supremacy in interpretation.
2. Strive to understand the passage as the first readers understood the passage.
Never is the goal to understand what the text means to
you! John’s intended meaning is the goal
of your study. Refuse to ignore those
first Christians and the setting in which they lived. Begin with the question, “What
did John, the apostle, intend for his first readers to understand?” While parts
of the book do gaze into the future, remember that you, the interpreter, must
see that future meant to Revelation’s first readers. How would they have understand
3. Resist the temptation to put everything into a tight chronological order.
Remember Revelation’s purpose is to transform the first
reader’s worldview from one of the temporal world to God’s eternal rule. Thus, Revelation will not always fit tightly
into a chronological line. Sometimes the picture maybe compared to a telescope.
The first part allows for a certain object to be brought into focus. The second
extension shows more detail than the first extension while the third extension provides
greater detail than either the first of the second.
Read Revelation 6:12-17 and the sixth seal account. This
seal culminates with the great day of judgment. When the seventh seal is opened
(Revelation 11:15-19), the end of the world is in focus again with the judging
of the nations. Additionally, the first bowl in Revelation 16:1-2 shows another
set of judgments. Revelation 19-22 presents another detailed picture of end
time judgments. Thus, more specific information is gained from each extension
of the telescope.
4. Separate what is intended literally and what is intended symbolically
As always, John’s intended meaning is key. John uses pictorial or symbolic language to
convey historical reality. This implies
that pictorial language needs not be literal. The genre of symbolic language
needs to follow that genre.
Would you literally expect to see a woman sitting on seven
hills if you read Revelation 17:9? Why not?
We take the symbol seriously, but not literally. First century believers naturally took it to
refer to Rome.
5. Seek to correspond John’s definition of an image in one place with subsequent places.
Two clear examples include John’s reference to the son of
Man in Revelation 1:17 which is Christ and in Revelation 1:20 the golden
lampstands are the churches. The reader
needs to note these clear definitions. When
Revelation 11:3-4 refers to lampstands again, it seems natural to understand
that as referring to a church as well.
A Word of caution – be aware that John uses precise
definitions with some images and he is fluid with other images. Check out his usages of star in Revelation
1:16, 20; 2:1; 3:1 with 8:10-12 as well as 22:16.
6. Study the Old Testament with its corresponding historical context and symbols.
How can the modern reader ever figure out what the
various symbols refer to if John did not provide the correct definition? Two answers are available for the reader. One
has been covered earlier with the historical context. The second is the Old
While Revelation possesses NO DIRECT Old Testament quote,
it does contain more Old Testament references that any other New Testament
book. The Old Testament shows up in
almost 70% of Revelations verses (Craig S. Keener, Revelation, NIV Application
Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000), 33. The four major Old Testament
books are Psalms, Daniel, Isaiah and Ezekiel.
7. Separate the main idea from the surrounding details.
The basic strategy to understand Revelation is to begin
with the big picture and work towards the details. This is just opposite the
normal manner of biblical interpretation.
Locate the major theological ideas of Revelation and write them in one
succinct sentence. Keep the main point
of the section in view always.
Now, if you had not understood the need for hard,
persistent, and consistent work in understanding Revelation, you should
now. Revelation will yield its rich gold
when the interpreter persists through the hard clay. Remember the first century
world context and the seven steps to reading Revelation.
What is your preferred manner to interpret Revelation and