This Advent, in the Year of the Great Pandemic 2020, it seems appropriate to look at The Apocalypse – that is, The Revelation of John. This is the twentieth of twenty-six short reflections.
How do the writings of Paul relate to the Revelation of John the Divine?
The answer is that in they are similar in their broad strokes, but they differ in details. Let’s start with Paul in First Corinthians.
In chapter 15 of Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians (which is actually his second letter, at least – we just don’t have the earlier correspondence) Paul castigates some of the members of the church in Corinth for not believing in the resurrection of the dead. By this he means the general resurrection of all who have died, but he adds some details (capital letters added):
20 But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died. .23 But each in his own order:
A Christ the first fruits,
B then at his coming those who belong to Christ.
E 24 Then comes the end, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father,
C after he has destroyed every ruler and every authority and power. 25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.
D 26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death. 27 For “God has put all things in subjection under his feet.”
F 28b so that God may be all in all.
We have here a structure of time. Christ has been raised from the dead (A) – that has already happened. Paul believes that Jesus will return, so that is the next step, or B. When Jesus comes the people “who belong to Christ” are raised. That has not happened yet, so the Corinthians would have known that they lived between A and B. The phrasing of the clauses in verse 24 can be confusing, but it seems that the sequence is that after Jesus comes (B) he judges and destroys “every ruler and every authority and power.” These are his enemies, and are not merely human powers but also the demonic powers. The last one is “death.” (D) What happens when death is defeated? All the dead are raised – the ones who were not raised when Jesus first came in glory – so this completes the general resurrection. Then the Son hands his kingdom over to the Father (E) and, in the obscure mystical language of verse 28, God is “all in all.”
In Revelation Jesus has already been raised from the dead. He has won the victory already, but it has not yet been implemented on earth. Where John differs from Paul is in the detailing of how Christ destroys “all his enemies”. And so we get the seven seals and the seven trumpets, the two beasts. Also, there appear to be two stages in the defeat. In the conclusion of chapter 19 the beast (a returned Nero) and the false prophet are thrown into the lake of fire, Jesus reigns, and you’d think that would be the end of things. However, in chapter 20 the dragon, Satan, is thrown into a pit for a thousand years, and Christ reigns with his saints during that time. Then Satan and his minions arise, besieges the beloved city (the New Jerusalem, not yet described), but fire consumes them, and then Satan gets tossed into the lake. Death and Hades are defeated, thrown into the lake of fire with the others, and the dead arise to be judged.
The structure of time in Revelation 19-20 (and other chapters) is more than a little confusing. What I think should be clear is that both Paul and John had an expectation that the end involved a battle between Christ and evil, and that there would be two resurrections.
This might strike us as a bit bizarre – Paul the Apostle and John the Divine both appear to be eschatological freaks. What we are to do with this is what I will examine tomorrow.