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 twenty-second of twenty-six short reflections.
As we saw a couple of days ago, Paul had a definite structure for God’s time and the salvation of the world, as described in 1 Corinthians 15:
- Christ is raised from the dead.
- Christ returns in glory as God’s anointed ruler.
- Christ’s own are raised from the dead.
- He destroys every ruler and every authority and power and thus puts all his enemies under his feet.
- Death is destroyed. The general resurrection.
- Christ hands over the kingdom to God the Father,
- God is all in all.
It would seem that John the Divine has a similar schedule in Revelation, with some variations. Here it is in detail:
- Jesus dies (5.6).
- Jesus rise from the dead (1.18)
- Jesus is in heaven
- The time of John the Divine.
- The Vision in Heaven
- Seven seals
- White horse and rider, to conquer
- Red horse and rider, for war
- Black horse and rider, for famine
- Pale green horse and ride, Death, followed by Hades
- The heavenly altar with martyred saints
- Cosmic earthquake
- The Seven Trumpets
- Hail, fire and blood – 1/3rd of the earth is burned up.
- A fiery mountain falls in the sea – 1/3 of the sea destroyed.
- A star falls of rivers & springs – 1/3 of waters poisoned.
- Heavenly bodies struck – 1/3 of light cut off.
- The First Woe: A star falls and releases locust-like creatures from the bottomless pit – they torture those without the seal of God for five months. They are led by Abbadon/Apollyon – “Doom”.
- The Second Woe:
- The Four Angels are released and kill 1/3 of humanity by fire, smoke, and sulfur.
- The Seven Thunders. Seen, but not revealed by John.
- Testimony of the Two Witnesses.
- The Two Witnesses are killed by Abbadon, and exposed in Rome.
- The Two Witnesses are raised from the dead, and ascend into heaven.
- A great earthquake in Rome. 7000 die.
- The Third Woe. The Seventh Trumpet
- The woman with the crown of stars appears, and she is pregnant.The red dragon with seven horns and ten crowns appears (Rome/Satan).
- The dragon makes war on the woman.
- The woman gives birth to a son who is to rule the earth.
- The child is taken to heaven, and the women hides in the wilderness.
- War in heaven. Michael an his angels throws down Satan and his angels.
- The dragon seeks to destroy the woman, but the earth itself fights for her.
- The dragon makes war on her other children, the followers of Jesus.
- The Beasts
- The First Beast from the Sea has ten horns and seven heads.
- The Second Beast, that worships the first, with two horns like a lamb but speaks like a dragon.
- Seven plagues
- Babylon (Rome) falls. The Beasts are defeated and thrown into the lake of fire.
- Satan is bound in a pit.
- Jesus and the martyred saints rule for a thousand years.
- Satan is release and causes havoc.
- Satan is thrown into the lake of fire.
- Death and Hades are thrown into the lake of fire. The dead are given up – the resurrection.
- Those whose names are not in the Book are thrown into the lake of fire.
- The New Heaven and the New Earth, with the New Jerusalem. God makes all things new.
- Seven seals
But it is not so straightforward. This is what I mean a couple of weeks ago when I said that time in Revelation is “wonky” – time past is also time future, and time present can also be the past represented now, and the future also made present. Thus:
- In 5.5 the Lamb of God – Jesus – is described as already having conquered. The First Beast is all mixed up temporally, describing the kings who have been, the one who is now, and shall be. Identified as the Roman Empire, it is partially the past.
- The pregnant woman of chapter 12 (g.a. in the schema above) has sometimes been identified as Mary, the mother of Jesus, but she seems to be more than that – perhaps the church? She gives birth to a child, who is immediately taken into heaven – and this seems to be a radical telescoping of Jesus’s life into birth followed by glorification. So, again, John the Divine sees past and future all together.
- When is the war in heaven? If Jesus, the Lamb who has been slain but has been resurrected and is in heaven, has already conquered, why is Satan in heaven? So this war in heaven cannot be read as following on the birth of Jesus. John Milton in Paradise Lost, following developed Christian tradition, sees it as having happened before the foundation of the world – but when was that? What does it mean to say that there was a time before the creation of the material world? Is there time, strictly speaking, in heaven? Is the eternal, strictly speaking, atemporal?
- Why does Jesus reign for a thousand years, followed by the reemergence of Satan, only for him to be thrown into the lake of fire?
- Finally, we read in the beginning of chapter 21:
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.
The reason the sea is no more is not because it is the literal sea, but because it represents chaos to the landlubbers from the highlands of Judea, Samaria, and Galilee. So it serves a symbolic function, not a literal one. If that is the case, then we need to read the rest of the description of the new creation as symbolic. And if that is the case, do we then read most of Revelation as mostly symbolic as well? Are we misreading the book if we try to relieve the tensions of temporal descriptions? Perhaps we should be read the book as multiple reiterations of the victory of Jesus – a victory manifested in his death and resurrection, a victory that is seen in the lives of Christ’s followers, and a victory to come fully.
This brings us back to symbolism and meaning. As one commentator said, “Too many people take literally what should be taken metaphorically, and regard as metaphors that which should be taken literally.”
So tomorrow I will look at the New Jerusalem, and the meaning behind its symbolism.