St. Mark’s Adult Education Meeting Summary
“The Book of Revelation: Part One”
Sunday, October 28, 2001
This morning, Father Mike Kreutzer led us through the first three chapters of the Book of Revelation.
Mike began the discussion by reviewing notes from Wilfrid J. Harrington, O.P. (“Sacra Pagina” Series, 1993, Collegville, MN, Michael Glazier). First, he noted that Revelation is often associated with apocalypse. The definition follows:
Apocalypse (J.J. Collins, The Apocalyptic Imagination, page 4): “A genre of revelatory literature with a narrative framework in which a revelation is mediated by an otherworldly being to a human recipient, disclosing a transcendent reality which is both temporal, insofar as it envisages eschatological salvation, and spatial insofar as it involves another, supernatural world.” (page 1).
This deals with revelation where a supernatural being serves as mediator. It connects this world with the next. It is a type of imaginative poetry not to be taken literally and filled with many symbol and images (sometimes bizarre and curious).
Next, the literary form was described.
Literary Form: “Revelation is an inter-textual work — a network of references to other texts. It is a mixed genre. It does not wholly conform to any known ancient literary convention. It is revelatory literature; that much is clear. It has unmistakable apocalyptic characteristics. Yet, John presents himself as a prophet. To complicate the issue, he has cast his work in letter form. We are left with a prophetic-apocalyptic writing, in the form of a letter to specific Christian communities.” (pages 6-7)
These Christian communities were located in what is now modern-day Turkey.
Authorship: “The best we may claim is that the author of Revelation is an otherwise unknown Christian prophet, likely an itinerant prophet, and probably, a Palestinian by birth.” (page 9)
Social Setting : opposition to the Empire and to other Christian churches;
dualism: “His was a firmly dualistic vision: there is God, and there is evil. And Rome was wholly evil. Not all Christians saw it so. There is no knowledge that John had any knowledge of, let alone any association with, the Christian communities to whom the Pastoral Letters were addressed. These Christians had come to terms with the world in which they lived. They were to be model citizens of that world…. It is this sort of Church with which we are familiar because, historically, the Christian Church has followed the Pastoral model…
“Furthermore, because the fall of Rome would presage the end, it behooved Christians to play their part in the dissolution of the evil empire. If rejection must be total, resistance must be passive. Ironically, victory is won through defeat! The victim is the victor! Resistance, even passive resistance, would inevitably invite the reaction of Rome: a power-based authority can brook no dissension. John was urging his Christians to dissension. In the assurance that he would be heeded, he warned, repeatedly and without apology, of tribulation. After all, Christians are disciples of the slain Lamb — the disciple is not greater than the Master.” (pages 12-13)
John divided the world into two groupings: God with His faithful followers vs. the rest of the world. The authors were not the same as those who wrote the Book of John, but they do follow the same train of thought. Mike noted that there were four lines of interpretation:
1) “Non-historical or idealist interpretation” – ideals and teachings only are important
2) “World-historical (Church-historical) interpretation” – from a historical interpretation
3) “End-historical (‘futurist’) interpretation” – how the end of the world will come about
4) The contemporary-historical (‘preterist’) interpretation – these things have already happened
This last view is the one shared by most scholars today.
Next, Mike reviewed the outline “flow” which we would be covering:
I. Prologue, Address, and Inaugural Vision (Ch.1) II. The Messages to the Seven Churches (Chs. 2-3)
III. The Scroll Vision (Chs. 4-5) IV. The Seven Seals (6:1 – 8:5)
V. The Seven Trumpets VI. The Woman and the Dragon
VII. The Two Beasts VIII. Salvation and Judgment (Ch. 14)
IX. The Last Plagues (Chs. 15-16) X. The Harlot and the Beast (Ch. 17)
XI. The End of Babylon (18:1 – 19:10) XII. The End of Evil (19:11 – 20:15)
XIII. The New Jerusalem (21:1 – 22:5) XIV. Epilogue and Conclusion (22:6-21)
Continuing with the notes from Harrington…
God’s sovereignty: “John’s view is dualistic: a universe divided, in conflict between good and evil. But there is never any doubt of the outcome. Evil, even in its most potent guise, is subject to the sovereign power of good — the One seated on the throne.” (page 25). Mike added the view was that that God “allowed” the beast to reign for a period of time and always maintained the upper hand.
The Lamb: “‘Lamb’ is John’s favorite title for Christ throughout… the decisive victory of the Lamb was won on the cross… It is because of his faithfulness to his witness-bearing, a faithfulness that brought him to the cross, that he shares the throne of God… The majestic, awesome One who sits on the throne is the same One who has revealed himself in the Lamb.” (pages 25-26) This was John’s favorite title for Christ.
· Angels : “God and Lamb evoke the heavenly world. Traditionally, angels are citizens of that world… They are, patently, symbols of God’s variegated communication with his creation and, more particularly, with his world of humankind.” (pages 28-29).
· The Dragon: “John is heir to the figure of Satan that during the intertestimental period, under the influence of Persian dualistic religion, emerged in Jewish tradition as personification of evil and implacable for of God… In short, ‘Satan’ is a powerful symbol for superpersonal evil — ‘the sin of the world’.” (pages 29-30)
Liturgy: “Revelation is explicitly designated for public reading in a liturgy (1:3), most likely a Eucharistic liturgy… John is making a thoroughly biblical point: human creatures are, as creatures, subject to some lordship. One must serve God or Mammon, whatever shape Mammon may assume.” (page 30) Mike noted that people at this time were getting further and further away from Christ.
Contemporary Significance: “Revelation does have something to say to our Western world if, as said at the start, we interpret its symbols in relation to our situation. One may suggest some pointers.
“A great contrast in Revelation is between the throne of God and the throne of the beast, ultimately the throne of the dragon (13:14). The question is all about authority; more especially, the exercise of authority.
“…the Lamb is the embodiment of the rule of God. His voice is the cry of the poor and the afflicted, for the ‘rule of God’ is nothing other than God, a God bent on the salvation of humankind.” (page 32)
After review of the background information, Mike led the group through the discussion of the first three chapters.
The following is from the Revised Standard Version of the Bible. These passages are estimated to be written around 90 – 100 AD.
CHAPTER 1: The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants what must soon take place; and he made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, who bore witness to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw. Blessed is he who reads aloud the words of the prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written therein; for the time is near. John to the seven churches that are in Asia: Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the first-born of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth. To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen. Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, every one who pierced him; and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. Even so. Amen. “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty. I John, your brother, who share with you in Jesus the tribulation and the kingdom and the patient endurance, was on the island called Patmos on account of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet saying, “Write what you see in a book and send it to the seven churches, to Ephesus and to Smyrna and to Per’gamum and to Thyati’ra and to Sardis and to Philadelphia and to La-odice’a.” Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, and in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden girdle round his breast; his head and his hair were white as white wool, white as snow; his eyes were like a flame of fire, his feet were like burnished bronze, refined as in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of many waters; in his right hand he held seven stars, from his mouth issued a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength. When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand upon me, saying, “Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one; I died, and behold I am alive for evermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades. Now write what you see, what is and what is to take place hereafter. As for the mystery of the seven stars which you saw in my right hand, and the seven golden lampstands, the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.
Discussion on Chapter 1: The first three verses are the prologue. Jesus is acting as a messenger sent by an angel to servant John. John is addressing the seven churches of Asia (there used to be ten). He starts by addressing Ephesus and goes in geographical order. God identifies Himself in one of two place when He notes that He is the alpha and the omega. Next the first of the visions is covered. There is also much imagery throughout. Mike added that in Italy each city has a saint and perhaps there is a connection here to each group having a special angel.
CHAPTER 2: “To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: ‘The words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks among the seven golden lampstands. “‘I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear evil men but have tested those who call themselves apostles but are not, and found them to be false; I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary. But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember then from what you have fallen, repent and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent. Yet this you have, you hate the works of the Nicola’itans, which I also hate. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.’ “And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write: ‘The words of the first and the last, who died and came to life. “‘I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich) and the slander of those who say that they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who conquers shall not be hurt by the second death.’ “And to the angel of the church in Per’gamum write: ‘The words of him who has the sharp two-edged sword. “‘I know where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is; you hold fast my name and you did not deny my faith even in the days of An’tipas my witness, my faithful one, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells. But I have a few things against you: you have some there who hold the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, that they might eat food sacrificed to idols and practice immorality. So you also have some who hold the teaching of the Nicola’itans. Repent then. If not, I will come to you soon and war against them with the sword of my mouth. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone which no one knows except him who receives it.’ “And to the angel of the church in Thyati’ra write: ‘The words of the Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire, and whose feet are like burnished bronze. “‘I know your works, your love and faith and service and patient endurance, and that your latter works exceed the first. But I have this against you, that you tolerate the woman Jez’ebel, who calls herself a prophetess and is teaching and beguiling my servants to practice immorality and to eat food sacrificed to idols. I gave her time to repent, but she refuses to repent of her immorality. Behold, I will throw her on a sickbed, and those who commit adultery with her I will throw into great tribulation, unless they repent of her doings; and I will strike her children dead. And all the churches shall know that I am he who searches mind and heart, and I will give to each of you as your works deserve. But to the rest of you in Thyati’ra, who do not hold this teaching, who have not learned what some call the deep things of Satan, to you I say, I do not lay upon you any other burden; only hold fast what you have, until I come. He who conquers and who keeps my works until the end, I will give him power over the nations, and he shall rule them with a rod of iron, as when earthen pots are broken in pieces, even as I myself have received power from my Father; and I will give him the morning star. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’
Discussion on Chapter 2: John speaks first to Epesus. He scolds them for losing their brotherly love for one another and notes that they will lose their status of being known as the first church. To Smyna it is noted he knows of their poverty. Some of the Jews there are persecuted and some are not. Regarding Per’gamum, there is a great Roman presence. Some are faithful but some listen to Balaam and Nicola’itans; they are warned to repent. About Thyati’ra it is noted that they are doing better now but to tolerate Jezebel who calls herself a prophetess is not acceptable.
CHAPTER 3: “And to the angel of the church in Sardis write: ‘The words of him who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. “‘I know your works; you have the name of being alive, and you are dead. Awake, and strengthen what remains and is on the point of death, for I have not found your works perfect in the sight of my God. Remember then what you received and heard; keep that, and repent. If you will not awake, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come upon you. Yet you have still a few names in Sardis, people who have not soiled their garments; and they shall walk with me in white, for they are worthy. He who conquers shall be clad thus in white garments, and I will not blot his name out of the book of life; I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’ ” And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: ‘The words of the holy one, the true one, who has the key of David, who opens and no one shall shut, who shuts and no one opens. “‘I know your works. Behold, I have set before you an open door, which no one is able to shut; I know that you have but little power, and yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name. Behold, I will make those of the synagogue of Satan who say that they are Jews and are not, but lie–behold, I will make them come and bow down before your feet, and learn that I have loved you. Because you have kept my word of patient endurance, I will keep you from the hour of trial which is coming on the whole world, to try those who dwell upon the earth. I am coming soon; hold fast what you have, so that no one may seize your crown. He who conquers, I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God; never shall he go out of it, and I will write on him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem which comes down from my God out of heaven, and my own new name. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’ ” And to the angel of the church in La-odice’a write: ‘The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s creation. “‘I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew you out of my mouth. For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing; not knowing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. Therefore I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, that you may be rich, and white garments to clothe you and to keep the shame of your nakedness from being seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, that you may see. Those whom I love, I reprove and chasten; so be zealous and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any one hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. He who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I myself conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.'”
Mike summed up chapter three by noting that the church appeared on the outside to be doing well, but in reality it was not. Next week’s lesson will focus on the “series of the sevens”.