Revelation (Part 04): Scrolls and the Kinsman Redeemer
Having discussed the prologue and epilogue to Revelation, we will do well to keep those in mind as we try to fill in the rest of the book. The purpose for the book was clear: it is the revelation of Jesus the Rescuer—Jesus the Redeemer. That revelation is seated within an expectation of trouble and a need for persevering in covenant faithfulness. The encouragement toward the faithfulness is helped by promises that the time is short.
One other important fact that we realize in both the prologue and epilogue is that John is not merely telling us a story, but his style shows that he is writing the story as he sees it unfold. In fact, he is told to write.
The emphasis on John’s writing is seen throughout the book. We see the book start as a letter of sorts in 1:4. But it is not merely John’s idea. He is commanded to write by Christ in verses 11 and 19 of that first chapter. Each message to the seven churches in chapters 2 and 3 begin with the same instruction: “Write to the angel of the church.” And during events throughout Revelation we are reminded that John is writing. In 10:4 John is halted from his writing. In 14:13, he is commanded on something specific to write. In 19:9, again he is told what to write. And in 21:5, John is told a final time to write these faithful and true words.
Notably, the promised blessing of 22:7 and the curses in 22:18-19 highlight the importance of this written revelation of God’s redeeming plan. Nothing is to be added to it or taken away. As Pilate would say, what has been written has been written.
The emphasis on John’s writing is given, I think, for two reasons. One is to highlight the other books or scrolls mentioned that provide structure to the revelation. We’ll see a sealed scroll in chapter 5, an open, little scroll in chapter 10, and another scroll opened in chapter 20. The other reason for the emphasis is that if John’s command is to write what he sees, understanding it to be the revelation of Jesus and his ministry, we may fairly confidently understand that the revelation of Jesus and his ministry is not what we should expect to find in the other scrolls mentioned in Revelation. John is not merely making a copy of what is provided in the sealed scroll. The sealed scroll must be something else.
But how are we to deduce what exactly it is? Remember our key principles from Part 1 of this series. Key Principle #3 urged us to consider that Revelation’s symbolic references made sense only as we kept them tied to revelation already provided in previous Scripture—primarily the Old Testament. So we should check there first.
As we see the scene unfold in Revelation 5, we find that it is the one who appears as a slaughtered lamb that is worthy to take the sealed scroll and open its seals. The slaughtered lamb depiction points us to Jesus, our atoning sacrifice—our Redeemer. Understanding the concept of redeemer, then, will help us to understand why he is worthy to open the scroll and just what the scroll then is.
To redeem is to buy back or recover. The redeemer concept, then, refers to someone who will perform the recovering. And of course, we find that redeemer concept in the Old Testament—notably in the book of Ruth. The kinsman redeemer was a relative who could act on behalf of one in trouble, danger, or need. Rules applied. In the story of Ruth, we have an extensive view on how the kinsman redeemer idea worked. However, not only do we have the story of a kinsman redeemer, this story marches us symbolically through the entire gamut of lost and renewed (redeemed) relationship with God. Therefore, to help us understand the elements of Christ’s revelation in the book of Revelation, it would do us well to first look deeply into the story of Ruth.
Ruth’s story takes place during the time of the judges. In the 4000 years of OT recorded history, we find certain major milestones that help us keep ourselves oriented in regard to the people and events. Right in the middle of that 4000 years we can place Abraham at around year 2000 BC. (Please understand that these are general placements. Abraham was probably born around 2117 BC if you trust Martin Anstey’s Romance of Bible Chronology. But the actual date is not important for us right now, so we will stick to general approximations.)
Dividing the timeline again on either side of Abraham, Adam’s son Seth died at approximately 3000 BC while David was king at approximately 1000 BC. It is that millennium between Abraham (2000) and David (1000) to which we now draw our focus. During the first half of that millennium, Jacob’s 12 sons ended up in Egypt, and after about 400 years, Moses led them out, back to God’s Promised Land. By around 1500 BC, the Israelites were settled in the Promised Land—divvied up for each tribe. But it wasn’t until around 1100 that Saul became Israel’s first king. That span between 1500 and 1100 BC was the period of the judges. Since we know that Ruth was the great-grandmother of David, we can roughly calculate that the story of Ruth took place around 1200 BC, right in that judges period.
During this time, the tribe of Judah was settled immediately to the west of the Dead Sea. The kingdom of Moab occupied the area immediately to the east of the Dead Sea. (Moab’s territory was the same area in which Lot lived and where the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah had previously existed. The Moabites were, in fact, descended from Lot through his daughter (Gen 19:36-37).
As we look at the book of Ruth, I will briefly discuss the characters and action and then remark on their symbolic significance in the story of God’s rescue through Jesus. The book is predominantly feminine in its major elements with the exception of Boaz, the redeemer character. This obviously fits with the biblical narrative of Christ and his church being presented as a bridegroom and his bride. Thus, all those apart from Boaz (the Christ character) should take on a more feminine association in their symbolic reference. We, in fact, see that from the very beginning. We are told the family members of the story (Elimelech, Naomi, their sons) are Ephrathites—a group identified by the second wife of Caleb of Judah (1 Chr 2:19, 50-51). So the Ephrathites in this story represent the people of the earth.
We also learn in the first few verses of the book that a famine occurred in Judah. Elimelech decided to move his family to Moab because of the famine. While we would hardly think twice about this sort of move in our day as anything more than common sense, it had much more import at the time of Ruth. Remember that God had just brought the Israelites into this Promised Land. It was a land that God had originally promised to Abraham as a place in which God would provide. Part of the punishment the children of Israel endured in wandering through the desert for 40 years was because they worried that God would not provide for them against the giant inhabitants of the land. Many years later, in Isaiah, we see Ahaz the king unfaithfully engaging in treaties with other nations to avoid tribulation primarily because he did not trust in God’s care. So here now we find Elimelech in the land God gave, experiencing trouble, and instead of turning to God for his provisional care, deciding to take matters in his own hands and search for provision apart from God.
That is the exact fault of Adam and Eve. Adam chose for himself rather than trusting in God, and the result for Adam was death—separation from God. It turned out the same for Elimelech. He left the care of God, and the very next thing we learn about him is that he died.
That Elimelech is from Bethlehem of Judah tells us that he is of the people who were supposed to follow God. This also mirrors the Genesis 5 genealogy where we are told that God made Adam in his image; Adam had a son in his image; and a continued line of image-bearing sons are recorded. But those “sons of God” in Genesis 5 find their way to the daughters of men by Genesis 6:1, and they turn away from God. Just so did the sons of Elimelech turn to the daughters of another land (Moab) to find wives (Ruth 1:4), and, as in Genesis 6, the end result for them was death (Ruth 1:5).