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The Book of Revelation
The last book of the New Testament stands unique as the only completely apocalyptic book in the Bible. Other books have references to an apocalypse, such as Isaiah and Daniel but no book of the Old Testament is entirely given to the apocalypse. Though one such book, 2 Esdras is found in the Apocrypha.
Because apocalypse means “An unveiling” or “The revealing of things otherwise unknown” This book can be called either the “Apocalypse” or “Revelations” The King James version of the Bible refers to it as “Revelations”
The author makes no attempt to hide his identity;
Revelation 1 v1 “The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him, to shew unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass; and he sent and signified it by his angel unto his servant John.”
Common tradition has it that the Gospel of John, the three epistles of John and the book of Revelations were written by the same man. The Catholic Bible therefore titles this book “The Apocalypse of St. John the Apostle.”
The book, while written in Greek, is filled with Semitic word order and idiom and is filled with Old Testament references. It would seem to have been written by a Palestinian Jew who thought in Hebrew and writes in Greek. However, the difference between the style and vocabulary of the fourth gospel and Revelations seem to make it very doubtful that they were written by the same author.
The book begins with praise and admonition to seven congregations.
Revelation 1 v4 “John to the seven churches which are in Asia.”
John states that he is writing from the island of Patmos. Patmos is an island in the Aegean Sea about 70 miles south west of Ephesus. The Asia referred to in Bible times is the western third of the peninsula of Asia Minor. The Roman “Province of Asia” of which, Ephesus was the capital.
It is assumed that John was in self imposed exile on Patmos to escape persecution.
Revelation 1 v9 “I John, who also am your brother, and companion in tribulation”
The persecution under Nero was short lived and was localized to Rome. The persecution under Domitian was much more general and extended to Asia Minor. Domitian was assassinated in 96AD so it is generally held that Revelations was written in 95AD
His descriptions of things Heavenly are filled with poetic and symbolic references to the Old Testament.
Revelations 1 v7 “Behold, He cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see him, and they also which pierced Him; and all kindreds of the Earth shall wail because of Him”
Revelations 1 v8 “I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending, saith the Lord, which is, and which was, and which is to come.”
This is a style that flows through the whole book. John seems to like the works of Daniel and leans heavily on him and other Old Testament authors.
Isaiah 7 v13 “Behold, one like the Son of man came with the clouds of Heaven”
Zechariah 12 v10 “they shall look upon me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn”
Isaiah 44 v6 “Thus saith the Lord, I am the first and the last”
Throughout Hebrew mythology the number 7 is deeply significant. It first appears in the creation story where the Universe is created in 7 days. This is undoubtedly borrowed from the Babylonians during the exile period. The astronomers of that time viewed 7 celestial objects that appeared to move through the sky independently of the stars and the days of the week were associated with those bodies; the Sun, Moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. This gave rise to time being divided into 7 days each associated with one of these bodies. In English only Sunday, Monday and Saturday survive, though in older languages the tradition continues so that in Welsh we have Tuesday-Mawrth (Mars) Wednesday –Mercher (Mercury) Thursday-Iau (Jupiter) Friday-Gwener (Venus)
It was a fortunate coincidence for John that Rome was built on 7 hills.
The Four Horsemen
After speaking to the 7 churches John now begins to speak of heaven and the whole book becomes deeply mystical. He describes heaven using images drawn from Daniel, Ezekiel and Isaiah and in the midst of all this glory a book is revealed, a book with 7 seals.
Revelation 5 v6 “in the midst of the elders, stood a lamb as it had been slain”
Revelation 5 v7 “And he came and took the book out of the right hand of him that sat upon the throne”
The Messiah as a lamb first makes its appearance in the gospel of John. Then it is explicitly stated by Peter.
Peter 1 18 +19 “”ye were redeemed by the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish or spot.”
The lamb then breaks the seals of the book. The first four are a horse and rider.
Revelation 6 v2 “Behold a white horse; and he that sat on him had a bow and a crown…… and he went forth conquering”
This sounds like foreign invasion. The bow was the symbol of the Parthian raiders who had been terrorizing the East since the time of Julius Caesar. Their forces were never far to the East.
Revelation 6 v4 “There went another horse that was red; and power was given to him that sat thereon to take peace from the Earth.”
The red horse also seems to symbolize war. Perhaps the bloody war of insurrection.
Revelation 6 v5+6 “Lo a black horse; and he that sat on him had a pair of balancesin his hand”
“And I heard a voice say, a measure of wheat for a penny.”
The black horse represents famine. The measure of wheat for a penny is far higher than normal. Ordinary households could never afford that.
Revelations 6 v8 “behold a pale horse, and his name that sat on him was Death.”
This is not the kind of Death that would follow war or famine. They have already been taken care of. This represents death by disease.
So the four horsemen of the Apocalypse are War, Revolution, Famine and Pestilence.
For those who seek to refer this symbolism to our present times, the First World War provides an excellent example.
It was the bloodiest and stupidest slaughter the world had ever seen. It was accompanied by a revolution in Russia that still affects us, after the war both Germany and Russia suffered famine and immediately after the war, in 1918 there was a world-wide influenza pandemic that killed more people than the war did.
Never did the four horsemen ride with such vigor as they did then.
Then the fifth seal is broken and the souls of the Martyrs are revealed waiting for judgment.
When the sixth seal is broken the universe begins to crumble.
Now is the time for the climax, the seventh seal will end it all. But instead there seems to be a reluctance to bring it all to an end. So there is a break before returning to the seventh seal.
The 144,000 and the 2 Prophets
John says he sees four angels;
Revelation 7 v3 “Saying, hurt not the Earth till we have sealed the servants of our God in their foreheads.
The custom in Babylon from ancient times was to use a small cylinder with a raised insignia on it. When the cylinder is rolled on soft clay the image would appear and served as a signature. Slaves were branded in this manner to identify their master. The picture presented here is of the righteous being branded in some way so that they would be recognized as slaves of God and so saved from the destruction to come. The number of those so branded is specifically mentioned.
Revelations 7 v4 “I heard the number of them which were sealed. An hundred and forty and four thousand of all the tribes of the children of Israel.”
The number isn’t to be taken literally. Twelve takes its mystic nature from the fact that there are twelve months in the year, so there are twelve signs in the Zodiac. It has the notion of coming full circle or completeness. As in the twelve tribes of Israel being the complete descendants of Israel. So twelve times twelve is completeness accentuated, representing all the righteous of all the tribes. As for one thousand, that was the highest number with a specific name in ancient times. So 144,000 was an emphatic way of saying “All of the righteous, a very large number of them.”
The twelve tribes are then listed. It is declared that 12,000 shall come from each one of them. There is an interesting omission and addition to that list that may be the subject of another article.
These righteous now stand before the lamb and a famous phrase is uttered.
Revelations 7 v14 “they came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the lamb.”
Now the seventh seal is broken and we might expect a climax. Instead a new series of seven events begin with seven angels, each of whom blows a trumpet and with each trumpet sound there appears a new disaster. One such is of particular interest.
8:10 The third angel sounded, and a great star fell from the sky, burning like a torch, and it fell on one third of the rivers, and on the springs of the waters.
8:11 The name of the star is called "Wormwood." One third of the waters became wormwood. Many people died from the waters, because they were made bitter.
The Russian word for “Wormwood” is Chernobyl.
Six trumpets are sounded and then before the seventh we have another break. Here the temporary triumph of evil is described.
Revelation 11 v2 “The court which is without the temple is given unto the gentiles: and the HolyCity shall they tread under foot forty and two months.”
This is Temple symbolism. The period of three and a half years is the time that the Temple was desecrated under the reign of Antioch IV. Early Christians would understand the allegory of the Temple representing the Church.
Two prophets and their fate is then mentioned.
Revelations 11 v7+8 “And when they shall have finished their testimony, the beast that ascendeth out of the bottomless pit shall kill them.”
“and their dead bodies shall lie in the street of the great city.”
This continues the allegory that the church will be persecuted and may appear defeated. The two witnesses could have been Peter and Paul, in which case the “great city” would be Rome. A later copyist, feeling that the great city should be Jerusalem probably added the phrase;
Revelations 11 v8 “the great city where also our Lord was crucified.”
The final Battles and the New Jerusalem
Now the seventh trumpet is sounded but still no climax. Instead John moves into Babylonian mythology.
Revelations 12 v1 “And there appeared a great wonder in heaven; a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars.”
This would be the Babylonian Sun-Goddess, the twelve stars being the signs of the Zodiac through which the sun travels. The woman was in labor and gave birth to the Messiah.
Revelation 12 v5 “and she brought forth a man-child, who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron.”
There is an opponent in heaven and this also appears in Babylonian terms.
Revelation 12 v3 “and there appeared another wonder in heaven; and behold a great red dragon, having seven heads and ten horns, and seven crowns upon his head.”
The dragon represents chaos. This is the Babylonian Tiamat, the beast who must be defeated in the beginning to allow creation to take place and must be defeated in the end to allow the universe to come to a close. \The dragon also represents Satan, or the Anti-Christ. He is prepared to devour the Messiah at the instant of birth but the Messiah has heaven on his side.
Revelation 12 v7 “and there was war in Heaven; Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels.”
Revelation 12 v9 “And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent called the Devil, and Satan and his angels were cast out with him.”
This represents the influence of Persian mythology that has God commanding the forces of good and Satan leading the forces of evil. Only in Revelation does this idea finally get canonical approval.
Satan, unable to prevail against God, takes it out on humans.
Revelation 12 v17 “And the dragon was wroth with the woman, and went to make war with the remnant of her seed, which kept the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ.”
To John, this satisfactorily explains the troubles the church is going through.
In desperation, as the end of the world approaches, Satan gives his power to another Earthly entity, the beast.
Revelation 13 v1,2+3
“I saw a beast rise up out of the sea, having seven heads and ten horns and upon his heads the names of blasphemy.
“and the dragon gave him his power.”
“and I saw one of the heads as it were wounded to death; and his deadly wound was healed.”
The beast with seven heads is Rome. The ten crowns harks back to Daniels beast that also had ten horns. Alluding to the Seleucian kings down to Antioch IV who had oppressed Israel. The statement that upon his heads is the name of blasphemy refers to the demand that emperors be worshipped as Gods. The healed wound may refer to the fact that six Roman emperors up to the time Revelations was written were either assassinated or committed suicide. Yet even so the empire continued unabated.
This beast is to rule the Earth and those who do not worship him will die, Just as God sealed the righteous, so does the beast seal those belonging to him.
Revelation 13 v15,16+17 “as many as would not worship the image of the beast should be killed”
“and he causeth all to receive a mark in their right hand, or in their foreheads.”
“and that no man might buy or sell, save he that had the mark.”
John then names a person. But he names him indirectly, in such a way that the Christians of his time would understand but it wouldn’t get him in trouble.
Revelations 13 v18 “Here is wisdom, let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast; for it is the number of a man; and his number is six hundred threescore and six.”
Roman numerals have letters, this ha caused many commentators to search for various possibilities for the person John is alluding to. Roman numerals are sparse in words but Greek letters have a number assigned to each of them. It turns out that if you put the Greek form of Nero you have Caesar Neron. This adds up to 666. Nero was responsible for the martyrdom of a great many Christians in Rome.
The mystic perfection of the number 7 that runs through Revelations is seen as a perfect number. 6 falls short of that perfection and emphasizing it three times seems to make it a suitable number for the AntiChrist.
On one side we have a great city, ruled by the beast and his army wearing his mark, and on the other we have 144,000 righteous wearing their mark. The victory of good is certain
Revelation 16 v16 “and he (The beast) gathered them together into a place called in the Hebrew tongue Armageddon.”
Armageddon is more properly “Har- Magedon” or, the moat of Megiddo, a town about 55 miles north of Jerusalem. In 608BC It was the site of a battle between King Josiah of Israel and Pharaoh Nechoh of Egypt.
2 Kings 23 v29 “Pharaoh-nechoh king of Egypt went up against the king of Assyria and king Josiah went against him; and he (the Pharaoh) slew him (Josiah) at Megiddo”
The death of a great King there symbolized loss and calamity. The destruction of the forces of evil at that location would redress the balance.
The climax is once again interrupted by a vision, an angel speaks;
Revelation 17 v1 “Come hither, I will shew unto thee the great whore that sitteth upon many waters.”
Again Babylon represents Rome in all it’s luxury. The “many waters” is taken from an Old Testament description of the real Babylon which was a city of canals.
Revelation 17 v3,4+5 “So he carried me away into the wilderness, and I saw a woman sit upon a scarlet colored beast, full of the names of blasphemy, having seven heads and ten horns.”
“and the woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet color, and decked with precious stones and pearls.”
“and upon her forehead was written BABYLON THE GREAT”
John goes on to leave no doubt as to whom he is referring.
Revelation 17 v9 “The seven heads are seven mountains, on which the woman sitteth.”
Rome was built on seven hills.
Revelation 17 v10+11 “And there are seven kings, five are fallen, and one is, and the other is not yet come; and when he cometh he must continue a short space.”
“And the beast that was, and is not, even he is the eighth.”
This is undoubtedly a reference to Nero. If we count Julius Caesar as the first emperor, then five have fallen. One is, that would be Nero. The seventh would be Galba who reigned briefly before being killed by the Praetorian Guard. There followed a brief period of anarchy before Vespasian took over. During this time it was believed by the common people that Nero was not dead but had gone into hiding and that he would return to reclaim the throne. He, then, would be the beast that “was and is not” and when he returns he would be the eighth.
Now, finally, the end has come. After the battle of Armageddon the Messianic age opens.
Revelation 20 v1,2+3 “And I saw an angel come down from Heaven”
“And he laid hold on the dragon, that old serpent, which is the Devil, and Satan, and bound him a thousand years”
“And after that he must be loosed a little season.
There is more mystic symmetry here. It seems the end of the Earth must parallel it’s creation. After six ages of trial and turmoil, now comes the day of rest when the Earth spends a millennia under the Messiah. Then, when the Sabbath millennium is over, the end of the world can truly come.
Revelation 20 v7+8 “Satan shall be loosed out of his prison.”
“And shall go out to deceive the nations……Gog and Magog, to gather them in.”
This is an echo of Ezekiel’s prophecy;
Ezekiel 38 v2 “Son of Man, set thy face against Gog, the land of Magog.”
The forces of evil are again defeated and finally destroyed. Now judgement day has come at last.
Revelation 20 v12 ‘And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God……and the dead were judged.”
There is a current belief that the world is going to end in the year 2012. You may notice that the Day of Judgment is chapter 20 verse 12.
A perfect second creation now replaces the old.
Revelation 21 v1 “And I saw a new heaven and a new Earth, for the first Heaven and the first Earth were passed away.”
The New Jerusalem is filled with the triumphant symbolism of the number 12.
Revelation 21 v12 “a wall great and high, and had twelve gates and names written thereon, which are the names of the twelve tribes of the chidren of Israel.”
Verse 14 “And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and in them the names of the twelve apostles of the lamb.”
After the description of the city is made in the most glowing terms possible, an angel appears to remind us that all that is predicted will shortly come to pass.
Revelation 22 v6+7 “These sayings are faithful and true, and the Lord God senthis angel to shew the things which must shortly be done.”
“Behold I come quickly”
With that assurance still unfulfilled after nearly 2000 years, the New Testament ends.