How We Taught the New Testament in the Past: Lesson 46: “He Will Dwell with Them, and They Shall Be His People”
Lesson 46: “He Will Dwell with Them, and They Shall Be His People”
The current Gospel Doctrine manual provides two lessons on the book of Revelation, with the stated purpose “to encourage class members to face the future with hope because they know that the forces of evil will be overcome and the Savior will reign in triumph.” More than any other book of scripture, Revelation is impenetrable to me; more, too, than with any other book of scripture, the lessons devoted to Revelation seem to depend on isolated verses pulled seemingly at random from here and there throughout the chapters in a clear case of proof texting.
Perhaps it will be useful to teachers or class members to skim through this lesson from the 1955 Gospel Doctrine course, The Acts and the Epistles, by Russel B. Swensen. This chapter provides the historical setting for Revelation, John’s purposes for writing, and an overview of the narrative of John’s Revelation. While it contains matters not directly addressed in the current manual, it supports the same purpose, as stated in the opening paragraph: “It [Revelation] was not written to expound Christian theology, mysticism, or morals, but to assure the faithful saints that in the great conflict in this world between the powers of good and evil there is no doubt whatsoever as to the final triumph of righteousness.”
The Revelation of John
The threatened persecution of the Emperor Domitian in 95 A.D. was responsible for some vigorous and eloquent Christian scriptures which were written to prepare the saints for its impact. Hebrews, I Peter, and revelation were probably written because of this crisis. All three are distinctive and different, although motivated by the most enthusiastic Christian convictions. The most colorful and spectacular of them all is the Revelation of John, which is one of the most striking books ever written. It has a grandeur and sweep of perspective which is cosmic in its scale. It is one of the most inspirational and motivating religious masterpieces ever written. although it is by no means the latest of the New Testament writings, its position at the end of the sacred scripture makes it a fitting climax, as it deals with the ultimate Christian hopes concerning the final outcome of world history and the transition of all things from a temporal to an eternal cosmic order. It was not written to expound Christian theology, mysticism, or morals, but to assure the faithful saints that in the great conflict in this world between the powers of good and evil there is no doubt whatsoever as to the final triumph of righteousness. Though much of its imagery and symbolism belong to a bygone age, yet its burning convictions of God’s ultimate victory over the forces of conflict and confusion which dominate the nations are highly applicable to our present world situation.
the author John was inspired by a vision while he was in exile on the isle of Patmos off the southwestern coats of Asia Minor to pen a message of his revelation to seven of the chief Christian churches in Asia Minor. Thus the book is dedicated to them.
John to the seven churches which are in Asia; Grace be unto you, and peace, from him which is, and which was, and which is to come. … And from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, and the first begotten of the dead, and the prince of the kings of the earth. (1:4, 5.)
The resulting composition was written in the form of an apocalypse, a Jewish literary form that had characteristic features which distinguished it as a distinctive and original form of literature. The word apocalypse means to unveil. The English equivalent is the word revelation. But because the latter term has other meanings than that which designates a literary form, this peculiar type of Jewish literature is generally spoken of as an apocalypse.
The Jewish apocalypse arose primarily in the interim between the Old and New Testament periods. Some of its features can be seen in some of the Old Testament books such as Ezekiel, Zechariah, Isaiah, and Daniel. A basic feature of these writings after the Old Testament period was the assumption of an assumed name by the author, usually that of some ancient prophet. This itself is a witness of the growing power of an Old Testament canon which made the acceptance of any new revelation or prophetic appeal very difficult to obtain. People felt that the days of prophecy were past, and they would not listen to new prophetic claims. They were generally written in times of great crises and suffering to inspire the Israelites to exert their faith and hope in their deliverance from evil and their enemies by a divinely appointed messiah. The oppression of Palestine by the Greek rulers of Syria in the second century B.C. was highly productive of such writings. The message was thus highly nationalistic and patriotic rather than expressing concern for spiritual and moral truths. There was a general attitude of frustration or a conviction of the futility of human effort to conquer the problem. The people were to throw themselves upon God’s mercy and await deliverance through his messiah. a philosophy of history was expressed which postulated the fulfilment of a series of prophecies made in the distant past concerning the history of Israel and the final conflict between the two world kingdoms of good and evil presided over by God and Satan respectively. The evils of this life were directly due to Satan. Earthly authorities and rulers were his representatives. they were so powerful that they would be overthrown only by divine intervention. This would occur when the messiah comes with his angelic armies to triumph in a great battle over the forces of evil. There will be a climax of evil events in human society and the upheavals of nature on a cosmic scale before this great victory will occur. The faithful are not to lose heart by these ominous signs but to see in them the divinely appointed signals that the present order of things is about to be overthrown to make way for a heavenly regime on earth. This new state of the world will be marked by the resurrection of the righteous and a partial judgment of the wicked and by world peace and righteousness for many years. The period differed according to different apocalypses, but gradually the concept of a thousand years came to be quite general. At the end of it there would be a final resurrection and judgment.
The literary features were distinctive. There was much use of elaborate and fantastic symbolism and imagery. vivid and spectacular descriptions of the glories of the new order were contrasted with horrible and gruesome accounts of the awful events which were to precede it. Mystical numbers, secret names, ecstatic hymns, and symbolical monsters were scattered throughout the composition with lavish abandon. the primary function of the prophetic writer was not to impart a new moral message but an elaborate forecast of future historical events which were set forth in elaborate detail. The occasion of the composition was the experience of a dream or vision by the author, wherein he not only saw, but also heard, heavenly manifestations concerning future world events. Sometimes the author was transported bodily by heavenly messengers to distant places, even to heaven or to hell. Ezekiel was taken to a distant place when he was seized b a lock of his hair, and Daniel was taken to the castle of Susa. Enoch’s Apocalypse relates how he was taken to heaven upon the bosom of clouds. Angelic messengers and interpreters assist the seer to understand his vision and to interpret the same. Usually the prophetic author makes great claims of divine authenticity for his writing in order to secure a ready acceptance of its contents. The emotional tone throughout the apocalypse is extremely fervent, ecstatic, and generally narrowly patriotic. however, some of the later ones began to place much emphasis upon moral behavior, spiritual attitudes, and the salvation of righteous Gentiles along with the faithful Jews. Fervent hopes, resolute courage, and an unconquerable faith were usually the dominant attitudes expressed in these writings. There is no feeling of pretense or fraud in writing under an assumed name. They felt that they were inspired by the Lord to express the message as the ancient prophet would have given it himself. In contrast to present literary conventions, this custom was not at all objectionable to the ancient Hebrews.
John, however, did not appropriate all of the above characteristics. He was no slavish compiler of previous literary devices and religious concepts. His is a work of striking originality and power. although his book has often been assumed to be so mysterious and difficult of comprehension, when viewed by the ancient situation in which he wrote, many aspects of the book become intelligible and clear. Although many of his predictions and eternal truths may apply to later times, even our own, and the future ahead of us, nevertheless, a great deal of it fits the conditions of the Roman Empire at the end of the first century A.D. (An attempt will be made in these pages to see how much of Revelation might apply to the times in which it was written. This does not deny that many things in it do apply to our time and the future ahead of us.)
In the first place, he dedicated his book to the seven churches of Asia Minor who were undergoing troubles and persecution at the time he wrote. therefore, they and the ancient saints in them were uppermost in his mind when he sought to give them hope and courage by relating to them his glorious vision of future events. the twin evil powers with whom the powers of righteousness were contending seem to be the Roman Empire and Satan. The former was simply a representative of the latter. Various symbols apparently refer to this Empire. In chapter 13 it is represented as a beast with seven heads and ten horns, whom a second beast urges to worship all the world. Asia Minor, where the seven churches were located, was the most fanatic area in the Roman Empire regarding fidelity to the worship of the roman emperor. The priesthood of this imperial cult was responsible for much Christian persecution during the first centuries of Christian history. People had to have the mark of the beast on their foreheads in order to transact business and ordinary affairs. This may refer to the many activities of their life when they came into contact with legal customs, state holidays, festivities, recreation, and military affairs of the Empire
wherein ti was customary to perform some official act in recognition of the divinity of the emperor. This great world power is also represented as a beautiful and voluptuous harlot possessing incredible wealth and power, who sits on the many waters and on seven hills and has dominion over kings and rulers of the world. The Roman Empire was a land mass consisting of southern Europe, northern Africa and western Asia which encircled the Mediterranean Sea. Thus, it truly sat upon the waters and had dominion over many nations and native kings. The city was erected upon seven hills and was the center of immense wealth and luxury. All roads pointed toward Rome and the vast wealth of the Empire was poured into it to make it a huge city with over a million inhabitants and the center of vast economic enterprises, especially in the first century A.D. Hence the accusation against the alliance between the “harlot” and the business men of the ancient world had a basis in historical fact. Furthermore, because of the congested anc crowded quarters, the unemployment, the great discrepancy in the possession of wealth between the upper and lower classes, and the wild pursuit of pleasure and sensual indulgence, made Rome a center of extreme vice and corruption. Likewise, since the time of Nero, the Empire with its cult of emperor worship had become regarded by many Christians as the symbol of Satanic opposition against the Kingdom of God. It had become a vigorous persecutor of the saints and in Domitian’s reign it threatened to resume this on a great scale.
The commission of John to write to the seven churches of Asia is portrayed with an impressive setting.
I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, (Sunday) and heard behind me a great voice, as of a trumpet, saying, I am Alpha and Omega, the first and the last. And, what thou seest, write in a book, and send it unto the seven churches which are in Asia; unto Ephesus, and unto Smyrna, and unto Pergamos, and unto Thyatira, and unto Sardis, and unto Philadelphia, and unto Laodicea. And I turned to see the voice that spake with me. And being turned, I saw seven golden candlesticks; and in the midst of the seven candlesticks one like unto the Son of man, clothed with a garment down to the foot, and girt about the paps with a golden girdle. His head and his hairs were white like wool, as white as snow; and his eyes were as flame of fire; and his feet like unto fine brass, as if they burned in a furnace; and his voice as the sound of many waters. and he had in his right hand seven stars. And out of his mouth went a sharp two-edged sword. And his countenance was as the sun shineth in his strength. (1:10-16.) (See Daniel 7:9, 109.)
The message to the seven churches was primarily concerned with preparing them to face the coming calamities of persecution and dire catastrophes which were to be poured out upon the world. (Chapters 1-3.) Most of them had rendered conspicuous Christian service for which they were commended, while some were chastised for laxity in good works, the toleration of heresy, and association with Gentile religions. Some are suffering persecution which was instigated by the Jews. Others are troubled by heretical groups. General laxity and indifference prevail in certain quarters, especially the church at Laodicea. A number are frequenting pagan religious feasts and eating meats offered up to Idols. In Thyatira a woman prophetess Jezebel, has become a problem by leading Christians into intimate association with pagan cults and their immoral practices. But on the whole the churches were zealous for the cause of Christ and were bearing up nobly against the outside pressures.
After composing these letters to the seven churches, the author has another vision, and the main part of the apocalypse begins. The first three chapters are a type of prologue to give the background for the great message of the unfolding of world destiny. In this second vision a vivid description is given of the heavenly throne of God and its paraphernalia which is a brilliant word picture of a scene resplendent with glory and majesty.
And immediately I was in the spirit. And, behold, a throne was set in heaven, and one sat on the throne. And he that sat was to look like a jasper and a sardine [sardius] stone; and there was rainbow round about the throne in sight like unto an emerald. And round about the throne were four and twenty seats and upon the seats I saw four and twenty elders sitting, clothed in white raiment and they had on their heads crowns of gold. And out of the throne proceeded lightnings and thunderings and voices. and there were seven lamps of fire burning before the throne which are the seven spirits of God. And before the throne there was a sea of glass like unto crystal. And in the midst of the throne, and round about the throne, were four beasts full of eyes before and behind. (4:2-6.)
The beasts and the twenty-four elders were chanting songs of praise in honor of God’s majesty and power (4:7-11), when John beheld a scroll in the hand of God with seven seals. he wept because no one was found worthy to open and read the book. Whereupon Christ appeared in the symbol of a Lamb who had been slain and began to open the seals to the accompaniment of tremendous chanting by the beasts, the elders, and countless thousands of people. (5:1-14.) As each seal is broken John sees a vivid world panorama flash before his eyes which portrays the awful and dreadful happenings on earth. The major content of Revelation is the witnessing by the seer of colossal cosmic scenes of dreadful and awe-inspiring grandeur. They occur in three series each consisting of seven calamitous episodes. first, when the seven seals are broken (6:1-8:5), then, when the seven trumpets are sounded (8:6-11:19(;l and last, when the seven bowls of wrath are poured out upon the earth. (15:6-16:21.) The general theme is the same in all of these great world panoramas: the destruction of the wicked and the coming of tremendous upheavals in nature, and the occurrence of terrible evil, sin, and wars among the children of men before Christ returns.
The breaking of the first four seals conjure up four wild horsemen who spread conquest, war, famine, and death. (6:1-8.) The fifth seal revealed the souls of the martyrs beneath the heavenly altar crying for vengeance upon their persecutors. (6:9-11.) The opening of the sixth seal produced cosmic and astronomical upheavals which shook the earth and the heavens. this was followed by the gathering of the 144,000 elect saints of God. (6:12-7:17.) these apparently are those Jewish Christians from each of the twelve tribes who will be redeemed. The numberless multitudes who are also saved in this scene are the saints gathered from the various nations of the world. all of them chant songs of glory to God and Christ in gratitude for their salvation, and a choir of angels responds with an anthem of praise. The loosening of the seventh seal brought silence in heaven for half an hour during which seven angelic trumpeters appeared before the throne. Another angel filled his censor with burning incense and cast it upon the earth. Thereupon terrific lightning, thunders, and earthquakes shook the earth, and the seven angels began to blow their trumpets. (8:1-6.)
The first trumpet produced a terrific fiery hail upon the earth and consumed a third of the earth and all vegetation (8:7.) When the second trumpet sounded a great burning mountain was cast into the sea destroying a third of all shipping and sea animals. (8:8, 0.) The third trumpet was a signal for a great flaming star to destroy a third of the rivers and sources of waters. (8:10, 11.) The fourth trumpet caused the destruction of a third of the sun, moon and stars and darkness came upon the earth. (8:12, 13.) But these were relatively light calamities compared with what was to follow. The fifth trumpet released some grotesque flying monsters with stings like scorpions, who scourged the inhabitants of the earth, but with no effect so far as causing them to repent. (9:1-12.) The sixth trumpet released four demonic angels who sent forth a demonic host of cavalrymen with horrible characteristics from the past who descended upon the Empire to destroy a third of the population. (9:13-21.) Of particular interest is the horror and dread which people of the Empire had for the half-wild Persians and other peoples of the east who were famous cavalrymen and who were a continual threat to the Empire.
While waiting for the seventh trumpet, John was encouraged to eat a small scroll which was sweet to the taste, but a bitter pain to his stomach. This is similar to the devouring of a book by Ezekiel. (Ezek. 2:8-3:3.) It increased the prophetic powers of the seer but imparted to him knowledge of terrible happenings which caused him intense grief. He was commanded to measure the altar and temple of Jerusalem, a possible suggestion as to the restoration of it in the heavenly Jerusalem. For three and a half years the Gentiles were to have sway over Jerusalem during which time two martyrs testified to the people. They are symbolical of Elijah and Moses. The former will have power to stop the rains and the other to turn waters into blood and to smite the earth with any kind of plague. Though they will be killed by the unbelieving multitude, they will be resurrected and taken up to heaven. (10:1-11:14.)
Then the seventh angel blew his trumpet and powerful angelic voices in heaven chanted a joyous refrain.
The kingdoms of the world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign forever and the four and twenty elders, which sat before God on their seats fell upon their faces, and worshiped God. (11:15, 16.)
They sang another psalm of praise to God extolling His power and dominion over the nations and the certainty of His coming judgments. with a characteristic flourish this scene ended with cosmic manifestations.
And the temple of God was opened in heaven, and there was seen in his temple the ark of his testament [agreement]. And there were lightnings, and voices, and thunderings and an earthquake, and great hail. (11:19.)
Up to this part of Revelation the woes and calamities are general descriptions of the awful judgments hanging over the world. Now the climax and heart of the book is reached, wherein the contest between the powers of god and Satan struggle for the mastery of the world. (13:1-19:21.) this is the last woe, the other two are signified by the seven seals and the seven trumpets respectively. It is marked by greater evils but there is also a corresponding acceleration of God’s interference to curb this satanic power. this was foreshadowed by the casting out of Satan and one-third of the hosts of heaven by Michael (12:3, 4, 7-9), an event all so vividly portrayed in the Pearl of Great Price. (Moses 4:1-4.) Having failed in his attempt to dominate heaven, Satan then tried to destroy a heavenly mother who is about to give birth to the Messiah. Again God’s power frustrates him and the child was transported to God on his throne. (12:1-17.) This might be a symbolical portrayal of Satan’s attempt to destroy Jesus during His ministry and on the cross. A third attempt was made by the demonic leader to crush the work of God as personified in His Church by means of the worldly power of a great nation, presumably the Roman Empire. This is personified by a huge beast coming out of the sea with seven heads and ten horns which dominated the whole earth. 913:1-10.) At that time Rome controlled all the important lands of Europe, Africa, and western Asia and no one could overthrow her power. (Note 13:7.) The worship of this beast by the inhabitants of the world might well refer to the widespread extent of emperor-worship throughout Rome’s dominions. It made war upon the saints. The titles accorded to the roman emperor such as “God,” “Son of God,” and “Lord” were regarded with pious horror by the ancient Christians.
Then a second beast came forth from the sea and compelled all the world to worship the first beast. 913:11-18.) he employed propaganda, magic, and persecution to make men revere the dominant beast. Of all the provinces in the Empire, Asia Minor had the most enthusiastic and effective imperial priesthood cult to promote and direct emperor-worship. It was the cause of some of the most bitter and effective persecution of the Christians in the Empire. This second beast might well personify this institution.
The seven heads and ten horns of the first beast have an interesting parallel in the Roman emperors. Of the seven heads one had been severely wounded and then healed. From Augustus to Domitian there had been eight emperors. But there was a prevalent legend among the Roman masses to the effect that Nero who had been popular with them on account of his lavish public games and gifts, did not really die when he committed suicide. He would return again with great armies from the east to rule at some future date. Because Domitian committed the same cruel and vicious massacres of his opponents and was the second emperor to begin a severe persecution of the saints, they could well regard him as a reincarnation of Nero. Furthermore, the number of the beast is given as 666. (13:18.) The numerical value of the name Nero Caesar when written in Hebrew characters equals a total of 666. The ancient Greeks and Hebrews did not have the Arabic numerals, and like the Romans, calculated by means of attaching numerical significance to the letters of the alphabet. all those who buy and sell had to have the mark of the beast. this might refer to the legal technicalities of the roman Law and its procedures wherein many of its transactions and forms were expressed in formulae and oaths which referred to the Emperor’s divinity. it was a system of law which was most highly developed in its comprehension of the commercial and business phases of civil law.
The scene then shifted to Mount Zion where the Messiah stood with 144,000 elect saints who had been most perfect in their way of life. (14:1-5.) They were honored by peals of thunder, the music of celestial harps, and singing from the heavenly choir about the throne of God. Then a series of angels proclaimed with dramatics words and symbols the restoration of the gospel and the coming wrath of God. (15:1-8.) When they were poured out upon the world terrible calamities appeared as in the first series which accompanied the breaking of the seven seals. The first four wraths were directed more especially against the subjects of the beast 916:1-9, and the last three struck at him and his kingdom because of their wicked sacrilegious cult and the persecution of the saints. (165:20-21.) A spectacular aspect of the end will be the great battle of Armageddon when the demons will gather the kings of the earth to this place for a final conflict. (16:14-16.)
The scene of the cosmic stage then shifts as one of the seven angels with the bowls transported John away to a distant desert. (17:1-3.) Here he saw the worldly power of a great empire personified by a beautiful and voluptuous harlot sitting on a beast with seven heads and ten horns and upon the many waters. She had the name of “Mighty Babylon” and was the mother of idolatry and sinful practices, and was the chief persecutor of the saints. The angel explained that the seven heads were representative of the seven hills upon which this empire was established. It is a well-known historical fact that Rome was situated upon seven hills. The heads and the beast also refer to eight kings, of whom the beast is the eighth,
and is of the seven, and goeth into perdition. (17:11.)
There is a prediction of civil war within the Empire when ten kings symbolized by ten horns will make war upon the harlot. (17:3-18.)
Another angel then proclaimed the final overthrow of the great Empire and the seer witnessed the calamitous overthrow of its enormous economic system. (18:1-24.) The description of the commercial and industrial activities of this system is one of the most complete and detailed in ancient literature. Since John lived and wrote near Ephesus, it might well reflect the tremendous wealth and business of that great city. Yet compared with that of Rome, it was quite small. The kings of the earth and the businessmen lamented her fall with great grief because they profited much from her prosperity.
And the merchants of the earth shall weep and mourn over her; for no man buyeth their merchandise any more. The merchandise of gold, and silver, and precious stones, and of pearls, and fine linen, and purple, and silk, and scarlet, and all thyine (citron) wood, and all manner vessels of ivory, and all manner vessels of most precious wood, and of brass, and iron, and marble, and cinnamon, and odours, and ointments, and frankincense, and wine, and oil, and fine flour, and wheat, and beasts, and sheep, and horses, and chariots, and slaves, and souls of men. And the fruits that thy soul lusted after are departed from thee, and thou shalt find them no more at all. The merchants of these things, which were made rich by her, shall stand afar off for the fear of her torment, weeping and wailing, and saying, Alas, alas, that great city, that was clothed in fine linen, and purple, and scarlet, and decked with gold, and precious stones, and pearls; For in one hour so great riches is come to nought. And every shipmaster, and all the company in ships, and sailors, and as many as trade by sea, stood afar off, and cried when they saw the smoke of her burning, saying, What city is like unto this great city. (18:11-18.)
After an interlude the magnificence and splendor of the heavenly court scene and the fanfare of music, shouts, and tremendous thundering were depicted, as announcing the coming of the Lamb and His heavenly hosts to conquer the last forces of evil. (19:1-10.) Then the heavens were thrown open and the Messiah appeared in glory with a tremendous array of heavenly armies all mounted on white horses and clothed in shining white. A complete victory was won (19:11-21) and the beast and his satellite were thrown into a lake of fire. Satan was bound for a thousand years and a millennial order of peace and virtue prevailed during that time. (20:1-6.) The righteous dead will be resurrected to enjoy this Kingdom with Christ.
But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection. on such the second death hath no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ and shall reign with him a thousand years. (20:5, 6.)
At the end of the millennium Satan gathered his forces for one last battle (20:7-10). But he was quickly defeated and cast into the lake of fire to be confined there forever. Then the judgment of mankind occurred. (20:11-15.)
And I saw the dead, small and great stand before God; and the books were opened. And another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them. And they were judged every man according to their works. And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. this is the second death. And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire. (20:12-15.)
With picturesque symbolism John described the marriage of Christ and the new holy city, the new Jerusalem which was pictured as coming down from out of the heavens to dominate the new state of affairs on earth. 921:1-22:5.)
For the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea. (21:1.)
Herein shall Christ and his saints dwell forever. Then it was described with elaborate detail as to its size, measurements, and the precious quality of its construction materials. The supreme and sublime qualities of the new way of life which is to prevail in this city are expressed with poetic charm.
And he shewed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb. In the midst of the street of it, and on either side of the river, was there the tree of life, which bare twelve manner of fruits, and yielded her fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. And there shall be no more curse. But the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it; and his servants shall serve him. And they shall see his face; and his name shall be in their foreheads. And there shall be no night there; and they need no candle, neither light of the sun; for the Lord God giveth them light. And they shall reign for ever and ever. (22:1-5.)
The culminating feature of the book is the divine sanction which the angel and Christ imparted to it, so that all who read may give heed to its truths and commandments as they are the products of divine revelation. (22:6-21.)
For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book. And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book. he which testifieth these things saith, Surely I come quickly. Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen. (22:18-21.)
The distinctive teachings of this great masterpiece are quite obvious to the reader as he passes from one vivid scene to another. But because of the excessive symbolism and picturesque imagery, it might be well to summarize some of the underlying principles of religion which motivated the author and which revelation imparted to him.
The dominant note is that of faith and high courage. Boldly and resolutely John faces the most awful scenes of evil, suffering, and violence with a fiery and confident faith in God’s final triumph. the acceleration of terrible evil is a sign of the end when Christ will suddenly unleash His fearful power to crush the enemies of righteousness. Human effort is futile except to prepare one’s self to be morally worthy to be received into the millennial Kingdom. there is a bold defiance of the might and dominion of Satanic and secular powers. here is no appeal, like Paul’s Luke’s, or I Peter’s, to respect the emperor and the imperial regime. On the contrary, there is a sharp and ruthless condemnation of these items which is but thinly veiled by obvious symbols. Here open and frank spiritual warfare is declared against everything pertaining to the political and secular affairs of this world with no possible loophole for a moderate compromise.
Absolute loyalty to Christ is demanded with strong implications that the most terrible of all sins is that of apostasy. Those who compromise themselves in any way with the world are severely rebuked. Even some of the issues which Paul felt to be fairly unimportant, like eating meats sacrificed to idols, are attacked with savage vigor. Very little is said of the distinctive Christian virtues, such as those set forth in the Gospels, and especially in the Sermon on the Mount. The author is waging a battle against powerful forces of oppression and correctly feels that this is not the time to elaborate upon the great varieties of religious experience, but an occasion to remain true to the faith. consequently, there are many allusions throughout Revelation which stress the supreme merit of those who died as martyrs to the cause of Christ. Thus, the attitudes of faith and tenacious resistance which lead the faithful Christian along the thorny road of martyrdom have a weightier emphasis than the milder virtues.
Christ is portrayed as a heavenly warrior whose fierce wrath, ruthless annihilation of the wicked, and stern justice are His distinguishing qualities. He occupies a throne and position of lofty eminence in the court of heaven where the heavenly hosts and cosmic powers do Him continual honor. The sacrificial blood of His atoning death washes away the sins of the true believers. (1:5; 5:9; 7:14; 12:11.) he will rule during the millennium and preside at the judgment of all men. He will make a new heaven and a new earth and bring down the heavenly new Jerusalem which will be the dwelling place of the saints for all eternity. all of these achievements are vivid witnesses of His divine powers but reveal little of His inner soul and spiritual teachings.
The resurrection and judgment naturally occupy a highly important position in this account of the “last days.” They are basically related to the Kingdom during and after the millennium. There will be two resurrections, that of the just and that of the wicked. The former will be at the beginning and the latter at the end of the millennium. there is no elaborate discussion about the nature of this miraculous process as in Paul. It is merely a profound reality with John. the judgment will insure the salvation of most men. But there are some who will be partakers of the second death from which there is no redemption. But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolators, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone which is the ‘second death.” (21:3.) Satan likewise is to be confined in this fiery region forever.
The account given of the war in heaven, wherein Satan was cast out, is an important part of the Latter-day Saint theology. This reference to the pre-existent conflict is highly significant as it affords scriptural evidence for one’s belief in the pre-existence of human souls. The conflict itself is described more fully in the Pearl of Great Price.
And I, the Lord God, spake unto Moses, saying: That Satan, whom thou hast commanded in the name of mine Only Begotten, is the same which was from the beginning, and he came before me, saying, behold – here am I, send me, I will be thy son and I will redeem all mankind, that one soul shall not be lost, and surely I will do it; wherefore give me thine honor. But, behold, my Beloved Son, which was my beloved and Chosen from the beginning, said unto me – Father, thy will be done, and the glory be thine forever. Wherefore, because that Satan rebelled against me, and sought to destroy the agency of an, which I the Lord God, had given him, and also, that I should give unto him mine own power; by the power of mine Only Begotten. I caused that he should be cast down: and he became Satan, yea, even the devil, the father of all lies, to deceive and to blind men, and to lead them captive at his will, even as many as would not hearken unto my voice. (Moses 4:1-4.)
The nature of prophecy as revealed in Revelation is highly distinctive. The prophet had a most powerful religious experience in a vision on the Isle of Patmos. it was distinctive in comparison with that of certain Old Testament prophets like Jeremiah, because the essence of the message imparted by it was a marvelous visual and auditory drama of world history which unfolded scene by scene before the astonished eyes of the prophet. It did not result in the setting forth of extensive and profound spiritual and moral teachings, such as Paul and Jeremiah had produced under the inspiration of the Spirit. This does not mean that John was opposed to such. His task was a specifically limited one of arousing the faith and courage of saints by revealing to them the course of world history. he was not primarily concerned with spiritual reflection and exposition. The older prophets sought to reform society. John tried to prepare men individually to be ready to face the impending judgment of God, as there was no hope of perfecting or saving the existing world order.
One aspect of this panorama of world history in he last days is significant as it has been interpreted by the latter-day Saints as a prediction of the restoration of the gospel in modern times. The seer is contemplating the vision of the 144,000 perfected saints and hearing the heavenly choirs when he saw another heavenly manifestation.
And I saw another angel fly in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach unto them that dwell on the earth, and to every nation, and kindred and tongue and people, saying with a loud voice, fear God, and give glory to him; for the hour of his judgment is come. And worship him that made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and the fountains of waters. 914:6, 7.)
There is a marked hostility to the economic, political, and religious aspects of contemporary society in Revelation. The Empire is the personification of Satan’s power over the earth. There is no appreciation of the roman legal and administrative system based upon the absolute authority of the emperor and the exploitation of the huge masses of people by the wealthy few. There can be no question as to the great extent of vice and sin which prevailed in the cities of the Empire. Thus, in order to avoid any compromise with the world in which the Christians lived, Revelation encourages an absolute withdrawal from entangling or tempting associations with all things pagan. There is a marked note of asceticism in the virtues of the 144,000 saints mentioned above.
These are they which were not defiled with women; for they are virgins. These are they which follow the Lamb withersoeve he goeth. (14:4.)
The literary features of Revelation are astounding and distinguished as its religious message of hope and courage. It is one of the unique religious compositions penned by man. the quality of its literary characteristics as well as its thought are far above those of the previous and contemporary Jewish apocalypses. It is no spontaneous and sudden product of the pen. Although the author was inspired by some mighty visions, his work bears all the marks of a carefully written and organized masterpiece.
There are many rough places in the language of Revelation. The vocabulary, grammatical constructions, and syntax are not those of a smooth and accomplished author, such as the writers of the epistles of Hebrews and I Peter. There is often an extravagance of language and imagery, and an enthusiastic fervor which would be offensive to the classical Greek dramatists. However, there are many other features of this great work which far outweigh its defects.
The author has based his work upon a carefully unified and organized plan. The highly dramatic quality of this book is presented in a series of dramatic events which are contained in a cosmic drama of three acts. The first three chapters are a prologue wherein the author has his vision and is commissioned to write to the seven churches of Asia. The first act after this prelude is the two series of woes which follow the breaking of the seven seals and the blowing of the seven trumpets. (Chapters 4-11.) These bring dire calamities and suffering to the sinful inhabitants but effect no improvement in their way of life. The next act now brings the two major forces of the universe, the power of God and that of Satan, upon the cosmic scene and portrays their successive conflicts in which Satan is successively beaten. (12:1-19:21.) The portrayal of a great world empire as an emissary of Satan and its overthrow is but one aspect of this great struggle. As events accelerate toward the marshaling of the final forces of good and evil, seven bowls of wrath are poured out upon the world to plague the wicked. The climax of this struggle is the appearance of Christ with His heavenly hosts, His conquest of the forces of evil, and the binding of Satan for a thousand years.
The last act is a portrayal of the glory of the millennium, the last convulsive uprising of Satan, the final judgment, and the transformation of the old order into a new earth and a new heaven with the arrival of the heavenly city, the New Jerusalem. (20:1-22:5.) The final part is an epilogue where the angelic messenger impresses upon John the importance of his visions and their composition. (2w2:5-21.)
John’s Revelation has a number of unique features which are lacking in the Jewish apocalypses. He scorns to employ the name of some ancient prophet, but writes in his own name. There is no careful compilation of prophecies which deal with predictions of past events up to the time of writing. all of revelation is concerned with present and future events. He ties the contents of his vision more closely to his own time. The inclusion of a body of seven letters is also unique. It reflects the popularity of making letter collections within the Church and may have been influenced by the recent collection of Paul’s letters which happened just a few years before, about 90 A.D. Furthermore, the language is Greek and not Hebrew. Although many Hebraic symbols and expressions occur and there are any similarities in imagery with Daniel, Ezekiel, and the Revelation of Enoch, the language is definitely not translation Greek, but colloquial and idiomatic Koine, that is, the kind of Greek spoken by the non-literary masses. There is also no great dependence upon other apocalypses which was such a common practice of the Jewish writings of this type. Beyond the borrowing of a few Hebraic expressions and symbols, the composition of Revelation reflects the powerful originality of a great literary personality who writes with definite inner certainty and purpose.
There is an excessive amount of symbolism and picturesque imagery which are obviously allegorical, as the author explains in chapter 17. The Interpretation of the various heavenly and earthly beasts, the dragon, the harlot, etc., clearly reveal this. There are many numerical symbols, such as the three series of woes consisting of seven each in the seven seals, the seven trumpets, the seven bowls of wrath, the seven heads of the beast, and the seven hills. There is also some use of the numbers three, four, ten, and twelve and certain of their multiples. Another outstanding feature is the great number of hymns and chanting and the performance of musical instruments which characterizes the scene around the heavenly throne. These hymns have psalm-like qualities in their rapturous praise and devotion which they pour out to God and Christ. The twenty-four elders about the throne are somewhat similar to the chorus of a Greek drama which chants an interpretation of the play between the acts. In a great play the chorus was about the same number, actually lightly less, and performed its musical accompaniment to the play around the altar of Dionysis which was located in the center of the orchestra space just in front of the stage. After each colossal series of great events in Revelation the vision shifts back to the heavenly court where chanting and musical instruments furnish a sort of interlude.
But it is in the realm of the dramatic qualities which this book is supreme. There is no biblical book which approaches it in dramatic power and conception. Mention has been made of its organization, which portrays a tremendous cosmic drama in a series of three acts with a prologue and epilogue. The various events happen in a series of vivid changing scenes within these three great divisions or acts. There is nothing vague or mystical about them. They are strikingly realistic and vivid. There is much contrast and colorful variety as the scene shifts from the gorgeous court scenes in heaven to the awful monstrous shapes of the various scourges and the appalling appearance of the four horsemen. Then world-shaking earthquakes, storms, and tidal waves bring terror and consternation with their awful power. Pillars of fire, clouds, rainbows, angels flying through the heavens, the blare of angelic trumpets, the chanting of angels, the crashing reverberations of thunder, and the fierce shouting of heavenly warriors, the howls of the terror-stricken wicked are some of the realistic visual and sound effects of this stupendous drama. But the climax is reached, as is usual in dramas, with the conflict and struggle of two major forces. This is the main theme of the second section and is portrayed with John’s rare ability to paint realistic word pictures. Thus the struggle becomes ever more acute as the dragon, the beats, the woman, and the world armies appear. Today a most popular literary practice is to refer great world conflicts to Armageddon the battle depicted in Revelation when the armies of the world assemble to do battle with each other, just before the appearance of the Messiah and His heavenly hosts. (16:14-16.)
The smoke and heat of battle is suddenly shifted to a most beautiful and serene contemplation of the peace and happiness of the millennium and the new order of things after the world has been remade. It is like a pastoral poem in the calm and quiet serenity of its contemplative mood. The joy and tranquility of life in the New Jerusalem is described with short and swift strokes, and then the book ends. John was never one to dwell any length of time upon any of the scenes which he so effectively paints. When he deals with the triumphant and victorious themes, as well as the more violent and terrible features, he presents flashing pictures which deeply impress, but he also changes with remarkable rapidity.
The final words of the angel to the prophet about the curse to fall upon the heads of any who sought to tamper or to change any of the writings of the Revelation were concerned with this work alone. No author likes to have his work mutilated by the hands of others. Then, too, this work was given the status of a sacred scripture when it was composed. This is a unique feature, since practically all of the New Testament writings were written by anonymous and devout men who had no thought of attaining literary immortality through the incorporation of their writings into the sacred scriptures. But when John wrote, the scriptures of the New Testament had not been collected. Therefore, the charge of certain fundamentalist sectarians that John was referring to adding to or subtracting from the canon of the New Testament has no foundation in fact whatsoever.
In final resume, we must admit the genius and greatness of this book, not only for its inspiring courage, but also for the rich and vivid quality of its writing. Though many of the symbols and allegories will remain closed to us, enough of them become amazingly meaningful when viewed by the light of the historical background and the situation in which they were written. Though chronologically this book is by no means the last, its account of the final and last events of world history and its striking convictions of ultimate triumph of good over evil make it a fitting climax to end our New Testament canon.