THE REVELATION TO JOHN A Vision of End Time
Textbook Reading: Chapter 15: - “A Vision of End Time”, pp. 516-524.
Introduction: - Revelation is an apokalypsis or unveiling of unseen realities; “disclosure”/”unveiling”/”revelation”; - These unseen realities are both in heaven, as it is now, and on earth, as it will be in the future; - Revelation places government oppression and Christian suffering in a cosmic perspective; - It conveys a message of hope for believers; - It does this in the language of metaphor and symbol (Rev 21.1-3).
Introduction (contd.): - The First Christians believed that their generation would witness the end of the present wicked age and the beginning of God’s direct rule over the earth; - It anticipates a “new heaven and a new earth” (21.1); - It envisions the completion of God’s creative work begun in Genesis 1-2; - Thus, it provides the Omega, the last letter in the Greek alphabet, to the Alpha, the first letter (1.8).
Introduction (contd.): - The work portrays Jesus as a major figure; - He is the all-powerful heavenly Jesus; - He is the Messiah of popular expectation, that is: - He is a conquering, warrior-king (military messiah); - He slays his enemies; - He proves, beyond all doubt, his right to universal rule;
Introduction (contd.): - The author of the work sees a sharp contrast between the present world, which is hopelessly corrupt, and God’s planned future world, a realm of ideal purity; - The future world can be brought about only by God’s direct intervention in human affairs; - This requires Jesus to act as God’s judge and destroyer of the world as we know it.
Introduction (contd.): - Revelation is the only NT book composed entirely in the form of a literary Apocalypse (see “Apocalyptic Literature and the Book of Daniel,” pp. 271-274 and G 3-4 in the Textbook); - It combines visions of the unseen world with previews of future history; - All this is rendered in highly symbolic language; - The book belongs to the tradition that began with Daniel in the Second Century BCE (see Textbook, pp. 271-274);
Introduction (contd.): - The Book of Revelation is unique in the NT; - It is best studied in the context of the literary tradition to which it belongs; - The symbols it employs - the dragon, serpent, beast, and celestial woman - represent the conventional vocabulary of apocalyptic discourse (see Daniel 7, pp. 271-274 in Textbook where empires are disguised as beasts).
Authorship and Date: • - Probably not the work of the Apostle John; • Probably not the work of the person who wrote “The Gospel According to John”; • Probably not the work of the person (“Elder”) who wrote 1, 2, and 3 John); • - The author identifies himself as “John,” “God’s Servant” (1.1, 4, 9; 22.8); • - He does not claim apostolic authority; • - for the author, the apostles belong to an earlier generation (21.14);
Authorship and Date (contd.): - Was the author, as Eusebius suggests, another John, known as “the elder,” who lived at Ephesus around 100 CE? - However, most commentators think that we can know not much more about the author other than that his name was John and that he was exiled to Patmos (1.9) (present-day Patino), an Aegean Island, 90 km SW of Ephesus. - Whoever he was, he was familiar with the internal conditions in the seven Churches addressed (Chs. 2-3);
Prefecture of Dodecanese (Patmos/Patino is one of the islands in this Aegean group).
Authorship and Date (contd.): - Was the author an itinerant Christian Prophet? - He appears to be familiar with the area; - The author writes Greek as if it were a second language; - Thus, was he a Palestinian? - Did he have some connection with the Johannine Community, that is, the “Community of the Beloved Disciple”? - There are similarities between The Gospel According to John and Revelation;
Authorship and Date (contd.): - Most scholars date the work to the reign of Domitian (81-96 CE) and to late in his reign, about 95 or 96 (Fig. 15.6, p. 519 in Textbook); - The author of Revelation feels a growing tension between Church and State; - A sense of impending conflict that makes him regard Rome as a New Babylon, destroyer of God’s people.
Purpose and Organization: - The author views the outside world as a constant threat to his community; - He writes to encourage believers to maintain a strict separation between themselves and Greco-Roman society; - He depicts his community in a sectarian way, that is, as a point of light in a dark world dominated by idolatry, oppression, and the pursuit of wealth; - When faced with persecution, the faithful must resist all comprises;
Purpose and Organization (contd.): - The author describes the situation from a cosmic perspective: - A conflict between the invisible forces of good and evil that contend for human allegiance.
Purpose and organization (contd.): - For the Outline of Revelation see p. 519 in Textbook: 1. Prologue (1.1-20); 2. Jesus’ letters to the seven Churches (2.1-3.22); 3. Visions from heaven… (4.1-11.19); 4. Signs in heaven… (12.1-16.21); 5. Visions of the ‘great whore’ and the fall of Babylon (Rome) (17.1-18.24);
Outline of Revelation (contd.): 6. Visions of the eschaton :… (19.1-20.15); 7. Visions of the ‘new heaven’ and a new earth (21.1-22.5); 8. Epilogue (22.6-21).
Purpose and Organization (contd.): - From the above, it is clear that John begins his work in the real world of exile and suffering (1.1-10); - He then takes his readers on a tour of the spirit world; - He includes a picture of the imminent fall of Satanic governments and the triumph of Christ;
Purpose and Organization (contd.): - At the end of the work, he returns to the physical world and gives instructions to his contemporaries (22.6-21); - Thus, a circle, beginning and ending in the physical world but containing a panorama of the unseen regions of heaven and the future.
Use of images from the Hebrew Bible: - Symbols and themes particularly from the apocalyptic sections in Daniel, Ezekiel, Joel, and Zechariah; - John paraphrases the Hebrew Bible (see, for example, how the Jerusalem Bible uses italics for these sections); - He employs striking images to convey his vision of the unseen forces affecting his Churches’ (1.11) experience in the world;
Use of images from the Hebrew Bible (contd.): - The author combines biblical with non-biblical imagery; - He does this to show that the glorified Christ surpasses rival Graeco-Roman gods like Mithras, Apollo, Helios, etc. in strength and splendour (See, for example, Textbook, “The Mystery Religions,” pp. 322-325, and Glossary on “Mithras,” G-30); - See 1.20 where John explains his symbols;
Mithras sacrificing the mythical great bull (Vatican Museums, Vatican City).
Use of images from the Hebrew Bible (contd.): - This is done to assure the earthly congregations that they do not exist solely on a material plane; - These Churches are part of a larger, visible-invisible duality in which angelic spirits protect Christian gatherings; - The seven Churches are as precious as the golden candelabrum of the Jerusalem temple; - Like the stars, they shed Christ’s light on the world.
Jesus’ Letters to the Seven Churches (2.1-3.22): - John surveys conditions in the seven, light-bearing Churches of Asia Minor (see, Fig. 13.7, p. 520 - map); - The author presents himself as a secretary recording the dictation of the divine voice; - Jesus’ message to Ephesus (2.1-7), Smyrna (2.8-11), Pergamum (2.12-17), Thyatira (2.18-29), Sardis (3.1-6), Philadelphia (3.7-13), and Laodicea (3.14-22). (These letters to the Seven Churches (Revelation 2-3) probably originally existed as a separate text.)
Jesus’ Letters to the Seven Churches (2.1-3.22) (contd.): - The situation in each Church is rendered in images that suggest the religious issues prevailing there. (See The Jerusalem Bible, p. 428, on two different apocalypses (chs. 4-22) written at different times by one author and then fused into one by another author….)
Visions from heaven (4.1-11.19): - John is caught up to God’s throne where he views pictures of events about to occur (4.1-2); - The author is not interested in merely predicting the future; - But, by removing the veil that shrouds heavenly truths, he allows his readers to see that God retains full control of the universe;
Visions from Heaven (contd.): - The two series of visions that involve seven seals (5.1) and seven trumpets (8.2) serve to assure Christians that their deliverance is near and that their enemies are destined to suffer God’s wrath; - The Lamb, that is, Christ, opens the seven seals in sequence (5.5-9; 6.1-12; 8.1); - In each case, either a predetermined future event or a further revelation of God’s will is disclosed;
Stamp-seal – Early Dilmun, c. 2000-1800 BC (chlorite or steatite, height 1.32 cm diameter 2.6 cm –Manama, Bahrain National Museum)
Visions from Heaven (contd.): - Opening the first four seals unleashes four horses and riders - the famous four horsemen of the apocalypse (6.2, 4, 5, 8); - These represent earthly disasters: military conquest; war; famine; and death (6.1-8); - Breaking the fifth seal discloses Christian martyrs who cry for vengeance (6.9-11); - Opening the sixth brings seismic and astronomical phenomena (6.12-17);
Visions from Heaven (contd.): - Opening the seventh seal introduces the vision of seven trumpets, in which additional plagues afflict the earth (8.7-11.19);
Signs in Heaven (12.1-16.21): - Beginning with Ch. 12, there are a series of visions that dramatize the cosmic battle between the Lamb and the dragon; - The spiritual conflict finds its earthly counterpart in the climactic Battle of Armageddon (16.12-16) (in Hebrew, “har Megiddo” means “the mountain of Megiddo”); - Armageddon: the symbolic assembly point of the forces hostile to God as they prepare for the eschatological battle.