November 20 – November 27

Friday, November 20

Luke 19:41-44: The rejoicing hymnody of the previous verses suddenly turns to lamentation. In foretelling Jerusalem’s conquest by the Romans in the present verses, Jesus uses the language employed by the prophet Jeremiah when he foretold the earlier downfall of that city to the Babylonians (Jeremiah 6:6,13-14,17,21; 7:11). We recall that in Luke’s narrative this is the first time that Jesus has seen Jerusalem since His temptation in 4:9. All through His ministry, however, Jesus’ thought and intent have been directed to Jerusalem (Luke 9:31,51,53; 13:22,33; 17:11; 18:31; 19:11,28). Now He “sees” it and weeps (verse 41). Since Luke does not often portray the emotions of Jesus, this detail is especially striking.

In verse 42 the underlying Semitic word for “peace,” shalom, is part of the root of the city’s own name Jerusalem (cf. Hebrews 7:1-2).

The details of the siege in verse 43 are quite identical to the Romans’ treatment of Jerusalem just prior to its downfall. This fact, however, is not especially significant, inasmuch as all besieged cities are besieged in pretty much the same way, and Jerusalem had been besieged many times.

The reason given for Jerusalem’s coming destruction is identical with the reason given for the city’s earlier destruction at the hands of the Babylonians—namely, its failure to recognized the hour of the visitation of divine grace. The removal of one stone from atop another is a description of its “unbuilding” (cf. Haggai 2:15).

In the structure of Luke’s narrative, verses 43-48 describe Jesus’ first entry into the Temple since He was twelve years old (2:40-50). His purging of the Temple here is a partial fulfillment of Simeon’s prophecy in 2:34. It is also, of course, a fulfillment of the prophecy in Malachi 3:1-2.
Luke does not, like Mark, specify that this purging of the Temple took place on Monday. It is peculiar to Luke, however, that Jesus’ action prepares the Temple to become a place appropriate for His teaching, which follows immediately (verse 47).

The Temple’s purging is also related to its being a “house of prayer” (verse 46). This theme is especially prominent in Luke (cf. 1:8-11; 2:37; 18:10; 24:53).

During the ensuing days Jesus’ enemies endeavor to destroy Him, in evident reaction to the claims in His “take over” of the Temple for His own teaching ministry. The controversy here has to do entirely with the question of who has proper authority in the Temple. In Luke’s theology, Jesus in due course replaces the Temple, a theme that will be made explicit in Stephen’s speech in Acts 7.

When Jesus drove the moneychangers from the temple, it was the most eschatological of actions. Jesus thereby affirmed that the temple really is a precinct separated from an “outside,” where are found “dogs and sorcerers and sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and whoever loves and practices a lie” (Revelation 22:15). Thus, the Bible’s final book does not portray an afterlife of universal reconciliation, but an everlasting separation of wheat and chaff.

Saturday, November 21

2 Chronicles 35: Although 2 Kings 23:21-23 tells us of the Passover observed in Jerusalem in the year the scroll was discovered, the account of that same celebration here in Chronicles is far more ample and detailed. Indeed, verses 2–18 of the present chapter are peculiar to the Chronicler.

Josiah entrusted the organization and preparation for this feast to the ever-reliable Levites, who were especially charged with the actual slaying of the paschal lambs (vv. 3–5). At each part of the ritual the Levites performed their sundry duties as assistants, musicians, and door-keepers (vv. 10–15).

So great was Josiah’s celebration of Passover that the Chronicler’s mind was forced back to the time of Samuel to find its equal (v. 18). For two reasons this high estimate is unexpected. First, it makes Josiah’s celebration of Passover eclipse notable Passover celebrations of David,
Solomon, and Hezekiah. Second, it suggests a high liturgical standard during the premonarchical period, a time about which, as we have seen, the Chronicler had fairly little to say at the beginning of the book. These considerations render the Chronicler’s assessment a bit surprising.

The Chronicler is careful to note that this Passover celebration involved “all Judah and Israel” (v. 18). Josiah’s ability to bring together the entire chosen people, all the descendants of those who celebrated that first Passover on the night before the Exodus, indicates the recent political changes in the Fertile Crescent. Obviously no one was any longer afraid of what the Assyrians might think.

It is very significant of Josiah’s thinking, moreover, that he invited the remnants of the northern tribes to the feast, as Hezekiah had done in the previous century. The Passover was not just any feast. It was the feast in which Israel was separated from all other peoples of the earth. It was the feast that rendered Israel God’s chosen people. Therefore, it was preeminently the feast of the unity of the people of God.

Being restricted to Jerusalem, Josiah’s celebration of the feast, we observe, corresponded to the prescription of Deuteronomy, which we believe to have formed, at least in part, the scroll so recently discovered.

In that text it was commanded, “You may not sacrifice the Passover within any of your gates which the LORD your God gives you; but at the place where the LORD your God chooses to make his name abide, there you shall sacrifice the Passover” (Deut. 16:5–6).

Perhaps more than any other feast in the liturgical calendar, Passover roots Israel’s worship in the concrete, documented facts of history. The annual feast itself is part of the historical continuity inaugurated by the events remembered on that holiest of nights. Israel represents, in this respect, a religious adherence profoundly different from that of the religions of India, which involve various efforts to escape from history into some kind of experience transcendent to history. Israel’s worship does not endeavor to escape the flow of history but to place the worshippers into the people’s historical identity established by historical events. Those who keep this feast become one with those who have always kept it, including those who stood to eat the Passover on that first night, protected by the sprinkled blood of the paschal lambs.

The proper celebration of the Passover, however, is more than a “then and now.” The “then and now” form only the two extremes of the greater continuity. The full continuity is also important, because this feast is essentially an inherited feast, and the inheritance is received, not simply from the distant past, but from the more immediate past of the previous generation of worshippers.

What was true of Israel’s celebration of the paschal feast is, of course, likewise true of that new Pascha celebrated by Christians (in the identical historical continuity, for those Israelites were our own forefathers!).

This is how we should understand the words of the apostle Paul, who wrote to the Corinthians at Passover season, “Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us. Therefore let us keep the feast” (1?Cor. 5:7–8).

The closing verses (20–27) of this chapter bring us to the year 609, when the final remnants of the Assyrian army were destroyed at the Battle of Carchemish. Nineveh, the Assyrian capital, had fallen to the allied forces of the Medes and Babylonians three years earlier in 612 (to the great joy of the prophet Nahum, who made this the theme of his book). In 610 the vestigial refugee government of Assyria was driven out of Haran, at the top of the Fertile Crescent. The Assyrian situation had become desperate.

To Necho (610–594), the new pharaoh who took the throne of Egypt that very year, this was not a good development. Necho was certain that the Babylonians, after they finished off the Assyrians, would begin to cast their gaze down toward the southwestern border of the Fertile Crescent, the land of Egypt. Deciding, then, to cast in his lot with the remaining forces of Assyria, Necho marched his army northwards along the coastal road through the Carmel range, heading toward a rendezvous with the Assyrians at Carchemish on the Euphrates River, with the hope that with joined forces they might stop the march of the Babylonians and the Medes.

This road lay, of course, right through the territory of Judah, and King Josiah was forced to make some determination about the matter. Perhaps recalling that his great-grandfather Hezekiah had been friendly toward Babylon (32:31), and certainly remembering all that the Holy Land had suffered at the hands of the Assyrians, Josiah determined to throw in his lot with Babylon. He resolved to march counter to Pharaoh Necho and stop him from reaching Carchemish. When their two armies met at a crossroads on the plain beneath Armageddon, the “hill of Megiddo,” King Josiah perished in the battle.

Whereas in 2?Kings this story is told in two-and-a-half verses (23:28– 30a), the Chronicler provides a longer, more detailed, more colorful account. According to this account, Pharaoh Necho tried to dissuade Josiah from fighting him, claiming even the will, protection, and providence of God for the side of the Egyptians (v. 21). What is important here is not the nature of Necho’s claim, but the fact that the Chronicler apparently agreed with it (v. 22). In the narrator’s eyes, this was one more occasion when a king of Judah refused to pay heed to a message from on high, with disastrous results for the kingdom. He will summarize this theme in the next chapter (36:15–16).

Sunday, November 22

2 Chronicles 36: Whereas 2 Kings (23:31—25:21) devotes 58 verses to narrating the history of Judah after the death of Josiah, the Chronicler needs only a dozen verses to describe the same period (609–587 BC). It was a miserable time, easily summarized, and the Chronicler was not disposed to dwell on it.

As we have suggested, Josiah’s own motives may have been mixed when he determined to attack the invading army of Pharaoh Necho. The decline of the Assyrian Empire, a process requiring two decades until its fall, had created something of a political vacuum in the western half of the Fertile Crescent. In Judah itself at least one political faction favored the rise of Babylon, and this faction apparently included Josiah himself. The books of 2?Kings and Jeremiah indicate also the emergence of another party that preferred an alliance with Egypt. One side or the other would prevail, because it was becoming evident to everyone that Judah’s days of political independence were at an end.

The first part of the present chapter (vv. 1–10) illustrates the political struggles in which these competing forces worked themselves out. His eldest son Jehoiakim did not succeed Josiah at his death, because a popular uprising, apparently motivated by pro-Babylonian sympathies, gave the crown to another son, Jehoahaz/Eliakim (v. 1). Within three months, however, Pharaoh Necho intervened and took this son hostage into Egypt. To replace him on the throne of Judah he chose Josiah’s older son, Jehoiakim, who was perhaps more favorable—and certainly more acceptable—to Egypt (vv. 2, 4, 5). The annual tribute Judah paid to Egypt made manifest Judah’s de facto subjugation (v. 3).

After eleven years, nonetheless, Babylon decided to make its move on the southwest end of the Fertile Crescent, deposing Jehoiakim and replacing him with his son Jehoiachin (vv. 6–9). (In v. 9 read “eighteen” instead of “eight,” following the Greek manuscripts and 2?Kings 24:8.)

Within three months the Babylonians found the latter choice also unacceptable, so Jehoiachin was likewise deposed and replaced by his uncle, Zedekiah (vv. 10–11), the youngest son of Josiah. (In v. 10 Zedekiah iscalled Jehoiachin’s “brother,” but this noun is to be understood in the normal bibli
cal sense of “kinsman.” Only rarely does the word “brother” carry in Semitic languages the strict and limited sense it has in English.)

The Chronicler especially blames this Zedekiah, the last of Judah’s kings, for ignoring the sound counsel of Jeremiah, the last of the pre-exilic prophets. Indeed, the entire leadership of the nation is charged here with polluting the temple (v. 14), apparently with various forms of both idolatry and neglect. This indictment, found only in the Chronicler, touches at the center of his theological interest in history.

In addition, the Chronicler speaks of two pre-exilic spoliations of the vessels of the temple by the Babylonians (only one of which is mentioned in 2?Kings 23:13). These sacred vessels of the worship thus suffer, as it were, an early captivity in Babylon. (The Book of Ezra will give much attention to their return.)

The Chronicler perceived such defilements of the temple and its worship, by both the chosen people and their enemies, as attacking the being and identity of Israel. Eviscerating the very reason for Israel’s existence, these defilements led inevitably to the downfall of Jerusalem.

The Chronicler indicts the leaders of Judah for their sustained refusal to take seriously the warnings of the messengers by whom the
Lord “sent warnings to them . . . rising up early and sending them” (v.
15). This quaint latter expression the Chronicler took straight out of the Book of Jeremiah, where it is common (7:13, 25; 25:3, 4; 26:5; 29:10; 35:15; 44:4; cf. 11:7; 32:33), though it appears nowhere else in
Holy Scripture.

The Chronicler, even as he invokes the prophetic literature against his countrymen, appeals to the Wisdom literature by accusing them of
mockery (mal’bim), contempt (bozim), and scoffing (mitta’t’im) (v. 16).

That is to say, the leaders of Judah have proved themselves to be the consummate “fools,” who not only refuse to receive instruction but treat with malice those who would instruct them. Against such as these, says the Chronicler, there is no remedy.

As our reading of Chronicles would lead us to expect, Jerusalem’s fall is described chiefly in terms of the temple (vv. 17, 19) and its sacred vessels (v. 18).

Judah’s exile in Babylon lasted until 517 BC (v. 20), exactly seventy years from Jerusalem’s fall in 587. The Chronicler notes that Jeremiah (25:12) prophesied this detail (v. 21). That number, seventy, serves in the Bible as a kind of ironic Sabbath, because during all this period it is a fact that the land lay fallow and no one worked on it.

Because there was no temple, no active priesthood nor sacrifice during the seventy years of the Babylonian Captivity, that period held no theological interest for the Chronicler. He skipped it completely and went straight to the downfall of Babylon and the return of the exiles in the Book of Ezra.

In a later editing, the Book of Chronicles was separated from Ezra and Nehemiah, all of which had originally served as a narrative sequence, and thus became the final book in the Hebrew Scriptures (split into two at the time of the Greek Septuagint, as we have seen). Hence, this last page of Chronicles became the last page of the Hebrew Bible. When this later editing was done, the opening verses of the Book of Ezra were borrowed and added to the end of Chronicles (vv. 22–23), an arrangement that permitted the sacred text to end on a positive and optimistic note. Christian editions of Holy Scripture place Chronicles in a more sensible sequence.

Here ends our long reading of Chronicles.

Monday, November 23

Luke 20:20-26: Among the features that make up the “teaching style” of our Savior, one of the more notable is His refusal to let His hearers and interlocutors define the terms of discussion. It is one of the ways in which He makes it clear that the Gospel is more than simply an answer to a human question. The Good News eludes all attempts to restrict it to a human concern. Jesus sees to this.

For example, when a speculative point is raised, Jesus occasionally turns the inquiry into an exhortation. We observe, for instance, His response to the query, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of God?” Instead of a straightforward reply, He admonishes the disciples to become as little children (Matthew 18:2-4). There is a second level of irony in this answer—namely, little children do not ask such questions. Their query, that is to say, was prompted by the non-childlike ambitions of those who posed it (cf. Luke 9:46).

On receiving a purely conjectural question, Jesus sometimes uses it as the occasion to give a very practical admonition. For instance, asked about how many (quantum) will be saved, He offers very useful counsel about how (quomodo) to be saved (Luke 13:23-24).

Our Lord frequently responds to a question by posing a counter-question. In some cases the latter device is simply rhetorical. For instance, when asked if it is “lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any reason,” He appeals to Holy Scripture by employing an interrogative form: “Have you not read . . .?” (Matthew 19:3-4; cf. Luke 6:2-3). Likewise, when Nicodemus inquires, “How can these things be?” Jesus challenges him, “Are you a teacher in Israel and do not know these things?” (John 3:9-10) In these cases the counter-questions serve no purpose beyond their rhetorical force.

On other occasions, the Lord’s counter-question is a direct foil to block a questioner’s malicious intent (cf. Luke 11:53-54). Thus, when His enemies inquire by what authority He does “these things” (cleansing the Temple, withering a fig tree, and so forth), He declines to answer until the questioners should answer His counter-question about the authority of John the Baptist (Mark 11:28-30).

Sometimes, however, the Lord’s counter-question alters the direction and raises the level of the conversation. The most dramatic example of this phenomenon, I suppose, is the incident involving “spies who pretended to be righteous, that they might seize on His words, in order to deliver Him to the power and the authority of the governor.” In hopes of attaining this goal, they ask Jesus, “Is it lawful for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” (Luke 20:20-26)

The questioners here feel they can hardly fail: If the answer is yes, then Jesus will be perceived as taking the side of the Roman overlord. If the answer is no, then He is subject to arrest as a revolutionary.

The Lord recognizes the intent of this question, which is about as subtle as Mount McKinley. He requests the questioners to show the proper coin of the tax. This request accomplishes two things: First, it suggests that Jesus Himself does not have such a coin (cf. Matthew 17:24-27). Second, it proves that the questioners do have such a coin, thus demonstrating their hypocrisy in initiating the interrogation. If Jesus were interested in simply putting these hypocrites to shame, the entire discussion could reasonably end right here.

It is at this point, however, that Jesus asks His counter-question: “Whose image and inscription does it have?” The image on the coin is, in fact, essential to the discussion, and this in two ways: First, the emperor’s image on the coin is what renders it objectionable: It violates the prohibition against images. Second, the image indicates the coin’s basic significance: It belongs to Caesar. That is to say, Jesus does not evade the question about paying taxes to Caesar; He answers it, and the answer is yes!

At the same time, however, the Lord elevates the discussion above the limits of the original question. He uses the latter to distinguish between the relative and legitimate claims of the State and the absolute claims of God. This dominical distinction, which was always at least implicit in the Prophets, thus provides a practical norm in the Christian life. While remaining radically faithful to God, Christians are to support and give their allegiance to the government Providence has placed over them. The debt they owe to the State is not optional. Sharing in the economic and political benefits the State provides, they are under a stern moral obligation to bolster, maintain, and provide for it.

This important theological teaching comes by way of a dialectical response to a malicious question. A misshapen mouse gives birth to a perfectly formed elephant.

Tuesday, November 24

Luke 20:27-40: The group most threatened by Jesus’ assertion of authority in the Temple was that of the Sadducees, the priestly family, the sons of Zaddok.

??This group was also distinct in Judaism by reason of two doctrinal denials that characterized it. First, the denial of the resurrection, which was a standard doctrine of the Macchabees and the Pharisees. Second, the denial of canonical authority to any writings other than the Torah.

??In defense of their position on the first point, the Sadducees present to Jesus a reductio ad absurdum, a hypothetical problem respecting the doctrine of the resurrection (verse 28-33). They pose this hypothesis on the basis of the Torah (verse 28). ??In support of the doctrine of the Resurrection, Jesus ironically adheres to the Sadducees’ limited canon of the Torah (verse 37). If they can quote Moses, so can He!??

There is a further irony in that some of the scribes, standing nearby, express appreciation of the Lord’s solid answer to the Sadducees (verse 39). Only Luke mentions this. Later on, in the Acts of the Apostles, Luke will record Paul’s efforts to turn the Pharisees against the Sadducees on this point of the resurrection (Acts 23:6-8).??We may note, in passing, t
hat verses 35-36, found only in Luke, provide an argument for consecrated celibacy (cf. also 14:26; 18:29), along the lines of Paul’s argument in 1 Corinthians 7.

Wednesday, November 25

Luke 20:41-47: As His enemies, frustrated by Jesus’ answers to them hitherto, are not disposed to confront Him any further (verse 40), the Lord Himself takes the initiative (verse 41). ??

Jesus’ question with respect to the meaning of Psalm 110 (Greek and Latin 109) serves to introduce all Christian exegesis of that psalm. Because of Jesus’ question about this psalm, Christians learned from the words, “The Lord said to my Lord,” that Jesus is not only David’s descendent but also his pre-existing Lord. He is the Son, not only of David, but also of God.??

Having mysteriously addressed the identity of Christ, this same line of the same psalm goes on to speak of his triumph and enthronement, with the solemn proclamation: “Sit at My right hand.” These majestic words were quoted in the first sermon of the Christian Church, that of Pentecost morning at the third hour (cf. Acts 2:34), and became the foundation of some of the most important Christological and soteriological statements of the New Testament (cf. Mark 16:19; Romans 8:34; Ephesians 1:20; Colossians 3:1; Hebrews 1:3, 8:1, 10:12, 12:2.).

??In this one line of the psalm, then, Christians profess, in summary form, those profound doctrines at the foundation of our whole relationship to God: the eternal identity of Jesus Christ, His triumph over sin and death, and His glorification at God’s right hand: “God . . . has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, . . . who . . , when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the majesty on high . . “ (Hebrews 1:1-3).

Thursday, November 26

Luke 17:11-19: There are three points to be made about this Gospel reading for Thanksgiving Day: healing, thanksgiving, worship

First, this Gospel story presents us with one of the three accounts of individual Samaritans found in the New Testament; these three are the so-called Good Samaritan in Luke, the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well in John, and today’s Samaritan leper, the lone man who returned and gave thanks to the Lord.

This last account is also found only in Luke, and it is rightly seen as part of Luke’s chronicle of the mission to the Samaritans in the Acts of the Apostles. As we know, that early Christian mission to the Samaritans was an essential step in the evangelization of the world; that mission was the Gospel’s first extension beyond the confines of Judaism, and our Lord spoke of it specifically in the mandate He gave at the beginning of the Book of Acts: “you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

The Samaritans, being half-Jews, were the historical link between Judaism and the other nations of the earth. Today’s Gospel story, then, pertains to evangelism.

Significantly, this story about evangelism involves a healing. In the eyes of St. Luke, the physician who authored this story, evangelism was inseparable from health and healing. We recall Luke’s account of the mission of the Seventy: “heal the sick there, and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’”

Evangelism, the extension of the Gospel, has many aspects, but one of the most important of these aspects is the healing of peoples’ lives. Truly to preach the Gospel is to bring health to those who hear and receive it in faith. Today’s Samaritan is a man whom Christ restored to human wholeness and integrity.

Indeed, the Gospel itself asserts that full health, full human integrity, is available to man solely in Jesus the Messiah, for there is no other name under heaven given men by which they may be saved.

It is the mission of the Gospel to repair what is broken, to strengthen what is weak, to straighten what is bent, and to cure in our lives whatever is sick and unhealthy. “Arise, go your way,” says Jesus to this Samaritan, “Your faith has made you well.” This healing is accomplished only through receptive faith.

Second, the moral lesson of today’s Gospel has to do with thanksgiving. This point is made in Jesus’ question, with which the story ends: ““Were there not ten cleansed? But where are the nine? Were there not any found who returned to give glory to God except this foreigner?”

We doubt that this was the first time our Samaritan had given thanks. In truth, we suspect that he remembered to give thanks on this occasion because he had already formed the habit of giving thanks, even during those years when his leprosy made him an outcast. The cultivated and sustained habit of thanksgiving is the secret of a happy life. This is why Holy Scripture instructs us in all things to give thanks. Thanksgiving is to become the settled and normal habit of our souls.

It is ultimately thanksgiving that brings true healing to our lives. It is thanksgiving that separates us from those whose lives are spent in complaining and murmuring. The habit of complaining, after all, is profoundly unhealthy. Murmuring eats away the soul. Few things are more destructive of health than routine recourse to murmuring. It is no wonder that murmuring is the sin most condemned in Holy Scripture. Murmuring is never an expression of faith. Thanksgiving is.

Third, this faith, this thanksgiving, this health is an act of worship completely centered on the person of Jesus Christ. What, concretely, does our Samaritan do today? Let us read: “And one of them, when he saw that he was healed, returned, and with a loud voice glorified God, and fell down on his face at His feet, giving Him thanks.”

Please observe these particulars about the proper giving of thanks. We fall on our faces at the feet of Christ, and we shout with a loud voice. Thanksgiving is Christ-centered worship. It assumes the posture of humility and adoration.

The grateful Samaritan, we read, fell down on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving Him thanks. Observe the correct posture of thanksgiving—our faces at His feet. This is the correct posture of God’s servant before his Lord. This is the correct deportment of a healthy human being.

The goal of evangelism is to bring every soul to this position, to bow every head—every mind—before the Lordship of Christ, to cause to rise from every throat the loud voice of grateful praise, to remove from every heart the last trace of that deep sickness called murmuring, and to replace it with it with saving faith in that only name under heaven by which we are to be saved. We have assembled here today in order to join ourselves to this Samaritan, to make our own his adoration, his thanksgiving, and his praise.

Friday, November 27

Revelation 9:1-12: The first four trumpets produced plagues that resembled the seventh, first, and ninth plagues of Egypt (Exodus 9:22-26; 7:20-21; 10:21). These plagues, prompted by the trumpets, affect only the physical and astrophysical world, not human beings, at least not directly. The final three, described by the heavenly eagle as “woes,” afflict mankind directly (8:13).

The image of a fallen star already appeared in 8:10-11. Now another star falls in response to the fifth trumpet (verse 1; cf. Isaiah 14:12-20). This star opens the bottomless pit, from which arises a hellish smoke (verse 2; cf. 8:12) that contrasts with the incense smoke of prayer. The abyss represents existence without the worship of God—the theological term for which is “hell.” As John watches, a massive swarm of locusts takes form within that hellish cloud (verse 3), reminiscent of Egypt’s eighth plague (Exodus 10:12-15). Unlike those former locusts, however, these locusts attack men themselves, not the plant life (verse 4). Their activity is limited to five months, which is roughly the normal life span of locusts.
Indeed, this may be the only feature in which these particular locusts in Revelation resemble any other locusts in the world. These are not your usual, run-of-the-mill locusts (verses 8-10). They are satanic locusts, denizens of the abyss, who afflict men with despair. They deceptively have human faces (verse 7), but they represent a worse than human evil.

Their king is called “Abaddon,” which is the Old Testament’s personification of the underworld, or grave. It literally means “destruction” (cf. Job 26:6; 31:12). John translates this name into Greek as Apollyon, meaning “destroyer” (verse 11). It is possible that John intends here a word play on the name “’Apollo,” which name, according to Aeschylus (Agamemnon 1082), comes from the verb apoluein, “to destroy.”

We may bear in mind, in this respect, that the Emperor Domition—not a man easily outdone, it must be said, with respect to a high self-opinion—proclaimed himself a manifestation of Apollo. (There is simply no evil as evil as official, government-sanctioned evil.) The torture inflicted by these followers of Abaddon is spiritual, not physical, and the Christians, sealed with the sign of the Living God, are exempt from it.