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The Writings of Meredith G. Kline on the Book of Revelation: Chapter 5, “Death, Leviathan, and the Martyrs: Isaiah 24:1–27:1” (1986)

Danny E. Olinger

In 1986 for a tribute to Old Testament scholar Gleason Archer, Kline contributed the essay “Death, Leviathan, and the Martyrs: Isaiah 24:1–27:1.”[1] The essay focused on Isaiah’s so-called “little apocalypse” with the stated goal to open Isaiah’s pastoral theology of death, resurrection, and judgment and the impact it had on certain eschatological texts in the New Testament, primarily those in the Book of Revelation.

Victory Over Death

In the essay, Kline argued that the prophet Isaiah celebrates Yahweh’s victory over death in three main sections in Isaiah 24:1–27:1—the introduction (Isa. 24:1–3), centerpiece (Isa. 25:6–8), and conclusion (Isa. 26:19–27:1). Each graphically depicts the great reversal that will overtake the realm of death, but it is Isaiah 25:6–8 and its picture of the eschatological banquet that is Kline’s starting point.

Kline maintained that to appreciate the imagery of Isaiah 25:6–8 it is necessary to recall the reputation of the grave as the great devourer in the prophecy of Isaiah. Sheol makes wide its throat and swallows down its victims insatiably (Isa. 5:14).

When the promised banquet of everlasting victory for all peoples takes place “on this mountain” (Isa. 25:6–7) and “in that day” (Isa. 25:9),[2] the Lord will devour the devourer. God will swallow up the covering, death, that is cast over all the people (Isa. 25:7–8). This good news of the coming banquet and what God will do for his people in defeating death leads to confession, “It will be said in that day, ‘Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us. This is the Lord; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation” (Isa. 25:9).[3]

Kline noted that the Apostle Paul, quoting Isaiah 25:8 in 1 Corinthians 15:54, “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” identifies Isaiah’s banquet with the believer’s ultimate putting on of the glory of incorruption and immortality.

For Kline, however, this is not the only New Testament reference for Isaiah 25:8. He argued that Revelation 20:14 portrays this death of death as a casting of death and Hades into the lake of fire. The first death undergoes a second death, or as Kline said employing the language of Revelation 20, “what is the second resurrection for those written in the book of life is the second death for those who are not.”[4]

The connection between Isaiah 25:8 and Revelation 20:14 is strengthened by the fact that Revelation 20:12–13 reflects Isaiah 24:1–3. In Revelation 20:12, “the great and the small” refers to the totality of the dead who are delivered up by death and Hades from the sea to stand before the judgment throne of God (cp. also Rev. 19:18). Isaiah renders death as a bottle or skin whose liquid contents are to be poured out. At the general resurrection, portrayed in Isaiah 24:1–3, all that death has swallowed down will be spit up, spelling the end of death’s historical role.

Vindication of the Martyrs

Aligned against the saints and associated with death in Isaiah’s Apocalypse are Satan and his human accomplices. The final resurrection triumph over death includes judgment upon Leviathan (Isa. 27:1) and the vindication of the martyrs. Leviathan is a serpentine symbol in the Bible that pictures the demonic dimension of a particular situation. Likewise, John used the dragon-figure to represent Satan in Revelation 12:9 (“And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world”) and Revelation 20:2 (“And he seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan”).[5]  

Kline emphasized that both death and devil share the same attributes and activities. He wrote, “Like death, the devil is depicted as the swallower, if not through the Beliel designation then at least in Rev. 12:4, where the dragon is seen ready to devour the messianic child, and in 1 Pet. 5:8, where the Adversary is compared to a lion on the prowl, seeking to devour believers.”[6] Revelation 12:7–9 adds to this picture when it declares that an army of evil beings is associated with the devil in his cause. The judgment of God will come against Satan and this evil host “after many days” (Isa. 24:22) and God’s glory will be revealed (Isa. 24:23).

Kline believed that something of the nature of the judgment on Leviathan in Isaiah 27:1 could be discerned from Revelation 20:10. Here, the devil’s doom is being consigned eternally to the lake of fire, a realm of forever continuing torment. Satan no longer functions as the power of death in the creation proper, which also means that he no longer is in the role of the accuser of the brethren day and night before God. Kline explained,

It is through his tempting to sin and then prosecuting for sin (the ultimate duplicity) that he has come to yield the power of death. Therefore God’s resurrection-conquest of Satan as possessor of the power of death is at the same time a triumph over him as the accuser of the brethren.[7]

Deliverance, then, from death through resurrection in Christ is a reversal of condemnation. The verdict of justification secured by the merits of Christ is the answer to the prayer of the blood of the martyrs at the resurrection that Isaiah prophesies in 26:21. In Revelation 6:9–11, the martyrs awaiting the final avenging of their blood in the intermediate state receive already a foretaste of that pronouncement by being acknowledged as righteous through the bestowal of white robes in Revelation 19:8.

Subjection of the World-City

In Revelation 12:17–13:7, the faithful are assaulted by the dragon through the earthly means of the dragon-like beast. Therefore, in Revelation 20:10, the beast shares the dragon’s doom in the lake of fire. Kline believed this place of destruction prepared for the devil and his angels was “the fitting fate of the seed of the serpent, for throughout history they have exhibited their father’s spirit of self-assertion in blasphemous defiance of God and murderous hatred of his people.”[8] Since the days of Cain onward, the city of man in opposition to the city of God contains an antichrist propensity. This propensity erupted violently in Genesis 6:1–4 at the end of prediluvian history and will erupt again in the same manner in the final appearance of the man of sin.

The two-tiered structure of satanic enterprise in Isaiah 24:21–22 is seen in the Lord’s vengeance upon both the earthly kings below and the demonic host above. Consequently, what Isaiah depicts as a single judgment episode here in verses 21–22, John depicts twice in the Book of Revelation due to a thematic arrangement of its visions. In Revelation 19 the judgment is related from the perspective of the beast and the kings of earth; In Revelation 20 the judgment is related from the perspective of the career of Satan.

The hostility of the world-power against the saints in Isaiah’s prophecy is also seen in the prayers of the saints. Against the overwhelming might of their oppressors, the saints in Isaiah 26:8–9 cry to God and second the call of the blood of the martyrs for divine justice. They also confess their helplessness in Isaiah 26:17–18. As if in childbirth, they can produce only wind. Victory over the hostile-to-God inhabitants of the earth they cannot achieve.

Still, the cries of the saints are answered, and they are delivered, not by their own might, but by the might of the Lord. Isaiah 26:12 declares that what God’s people cannot achieve for themselves God will accomplish for them. God will descend from his heavenly temple to exact vengeance, the appeal to the martyrs’ blood answered and the witness of God’s slain released from the grave (Isa. 26:21). On this day, the day of resurrection, all those who have sided with the demonic hosts and have warred against the saints will fall.

Invitation to the Martyrs

The enemies of God in warfare with the saints in Isaiah 24–26, then, will experience divine vengeance on the day of resurrection. Death is the “last enemy” to be abolished by the coming Messiah, but even before its abolishment, the martyr people of God are not terrified by death. For believers, death is no longer terrifying because in the resurrection it is no longer a confining covering. This explains the invitation of Isaiah 26:20 that the people hide themselves in the inner rooms, an image of Sheol, until the wrath has passed by.

Revelation 2:10, 6:9–11, 14:13, and 20:4–6 share this perspective. In his closing sentences to the essay, Kline elaborated:

In all these passages the godly are viewed as under persecution. The beast power, or even the devil himself, appears in the nearby contexts. But the saints are faithful unto death, and their martyr blood cries out for avenging. Also, the intermediate state of death is perceived as a royal sabbatical resting until the historical strife is over. This interval of waiting will be short. And finally, the continuity of John, the New Testament seer, with Isaiah, the Old Testament prophet, is exhibited in their common portrayal of death as having been fundamentally changed for the redeemed of the Lord. In Rev. 20:4–6 this transformation is expressed by identifying the Christian’s death as “the first resurrection.”[9]

In a footnote, Kline added that Revelation 12:11 is why the intermediate state can be understood in terms of Sabbath rest. There the martyrs are proclaimed victors, overcomers because of their faithfulness unto death. Thus, they are secured from the second death and assured of the second resurrection (Rev. 2:11).

Endnotes

[1] Originally published in A Tribute to Gleason Archer, ed. Walter C. Kaiser Jr. and Ronald R. Youngblood (Chicago: Moody Press, 1986), 229–249. Citations will be taken from the appearance of the article in Meredith G. Kline’s Essential Writings of Meredith G. Kline (Peabody MA: Hendrickson, 2017), 217–237.

[2] The translation “in that day” in Isaiah 25:9 is Kline’s own. Jonathan G. Kline helpfully explains regarding Bible translations that in many cases his grandfather “used either the KJV or produced his own translations, but he also sometimes quoted the following translations (occasionally, though not usually, marking them): AV, ASV, RSV, NIV.” See, Jonathan G. Kline, “Acknowledgments,” in Essential Writings, xi.

[3] Typologically, Isaiah’s banquet has its antecedent in the communion meal that took place on the mountain of God in Exodus 24:9–11. According to Kline, the concluding verse of Isaiah 24 makes the connection unmistakable with its mention that the Lord of hosts reigns in Mt. Zion and in Jerusalem, and his glory will be before his elders. He also adds that “Yahweh’s swallowing of the earth-cover of death and the grave is a banquet of resurrection life forever, a devouring-death of death. Anticipating this eschatological banquet is the sacramental supper of the Lord, in which a feasting on Christ’s death celebrates his victory of life” (219).

[4] Kline, “Death, Leviathan, and the Martyrs,” 221.

[5] Kline also saw a connection between Satan’s attack in Revelation 20:2 and Job 7 (quotations below from ASV). In Job 7:12, Job asks complainingly, “Am I the sea, or a sea monster?” With the surveillance kept over him, Job says it is as if he was a mythological monster like Leviathan (Job 3:8) who threatened the stability of the universe. This leads to Job’s exclamation in 7:17, “What is man?” and his lament in 7:20, “If I have sinned, what do I unto thee?” Kline commented, “Actually, of course, God’s transcendence magnifies the seriousness of sin: it is the foundation of the meaningfulness of human experience and of all that is. Moreover, this struggle of Job was particularly significant because it had been made the test case for this very truth of the transcendent authority and control of God over history. In Job’s temptation the stability of the universe was under attack—as the ‘sons of God’ could have told Job—by the real ‘dragon’ (cf. Rev. 20:2) of whom the mystical sea monster was a paganized version. The angels saw the world trembling with every tremor of Job’s spirit. For it the redemptive power of God could not preserve Job in the fear of God, not only Job but the world was lost to satanic chaos.” See, Meredith G. Kline, “Job,” in The Wycliffe Bible Commentary, ed. C. F. Pfeiffer (Chicago: Moody, 1962), 468.

[6] Kline, “Death, Leviathan, and the Martyrs,” 226.

[7] Ibid., 228.

[8] Ibid., 230.

[9] Ibid., 237.

Danny E. Olinger is a minister in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and serves as the General Secretary of Christian Education of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. Ordained Servant Online, November 2021.

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