"No Rapture?, No Armeggedon? What was the meaning of this Revelation in St. John's time? a view of Revelation you've never heard before."
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"Revelation! What Did The First Audience Hear?"A Bible Class Study and Commentary on the Revelation of Jesus Christ to St. John
By ROGER PHILLIP DREWS
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2012 Rev. Roger Phillip Drews
All right reserved.
Chapter OneA "Cosmology"
The original occasion of this study was my reaction to the publishing of the book "The Late Great Planet Earth" by Hal Lindsey. It almost instantly had become a best seller in my congregation—so it also became a book in my library. After reading it (stewing through it might be a better description) and a then finding a new commentary by the late Dr. Martin Franzmann of the LC-MS, I proceeded to study the book of Revelation at some length. This became a continuous three year study with my Sunday morning Adult Bible Class at St. John Lutheran Church in Oak Creek, Wisconsin. By the God's grace I was able to repeat and improve this three year study for my Bible Class at Fox Point Lutheran Church.
After reading about 10 more commentaries of various and sundry views and slants and hundreds of web pages, I never actually heard or saw what the original hearers were hearing in their time and culture. From the old Lutherans I did read a lot about how the Pope was the Beast/ Antichrist. They apparently saw only this as the ultimate meaning of the book. Others took the Lindsey approach, that all signs point to the late 20th century as a road map of future events unfolding now. To those who claim to know the signs and symbols, they have fixed upon their own century as the century for the fulfillment of the prophecies of this book. This approach always forms the basis of the tabloids at the checkout stand. You've seen them as you stand in line at the supermarket and read the blaring headlines in the racks. Why not count how many you'll see; something like "The Bible Predicts the End of the World."
There is an unusual word which could describe this commentary -"cosmology." In Greek the [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.]/kosmos/is the orderly or ordered creation. That means it did not start out in order but in chaos. Genesis 1 begins the creation story in the same way, i.e from created chaos and moving to the created order. In the first century minds and culture, a god or gods had ordered chaos into the ordered and predictable reality. After all, the dependable and predictable Zodiac/Astrology, directed many of their lives. The moveable stars/planets of the heavens depended upon their predictable positions. The ordering of the cosmos became the primary feature and focus of religious and cultural thought. The close of the first century AD can only be described as being the most totally religious era in human history. The Satan seemed to be saying, "If I can't beat them, I'll join them. If religion is what they want I'll concoct so many false and counterfeit religions they will never know the Truth in Jesus the Christ!"
So I ask the not so obvious question, what is "religion?" In the Latin original it means "to bind back together re-ligare." The re-prefix means to do over. We hear ligare in the derivative words today in liga-ment, liga-tion and liga-ture. Re-lig-a-tion is that which binds all of reality back together. Re-ligion implies a prior scattering as in chaos, but then a reuniting to present a comprehensive view of the cosmos. Re-ligio literally "ties reality together." The book of Revelation is really about re-lig-ating, or a re-tying together the entire universe/cosmos in the Triune God, Who revealed Himself in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. The Revelation of Jesus Christ to St. John, shows us Who it is that brought the cosmos into existence and Who now is the sovereign Lord of the ordered creation. Revelation begins assuming we know about chaos, disorder, sin and the shattered and fractured nature of the fallen world (to Christians) as the result of rebellion and sin. St. John assumes this because all religions had a creation myth that was fundamental to understanding the world. (St. John will tell us his story of the early world in chapter 12:7ff.)
What makes something a religion? Not everything we label as a religion really is one. For any system, belief or philosophy to be a religion it must have this following elemental triad.
1. A theology. The religion must define a god, gods as the organizing principle of the cosmic reality.
2. A soteriology. A way of salvation, i.e. how does one come to be at one with this god? How does one achieve salvation, by self or by grace or some combination?
3. A liturgy or cultus. What is expected of humanity? How is the God of the cosmos served or worshipped?
All true religions must have this tripod. Without one leg the schema falls.
The religious world at the end of the first century Anno Domini had a variety of competing religions. The following are certainly the targets of St. John's polemics and apologetics.
1. The Jews who rejected Jesus as Messiah.
2. The Gnostics.
3. The Pantheonic inclusivists.
4. The cult of the Emperor.
5. The mystery religion of Mithras. (Some feel that elements of Persian Zoroastrianism are basic to Mithraism, especially the dualism of a good god and an evil god who were virtually equal in power.)
What is common among this quintet is that they are all self-directed religions of works or special or mysterious knowledge necessary in order to achieve salvation. I assert that St. John's Revelation is an apologetic for the Christian religion being the one true religion, and a polemic against the feeble, false, and satanically inspired religions. St. John, taking the battle for souls to their playing field, uses the coded language of the mystery religions. I have reached this conlusion after having studied the book carefully for more than eight years. It is certainly possible to hold other views about the book. I feel that what the original hearers heard when they heard this opening chapter for the first time was an apology for Jesus the Christ and a polemic against the Satan.
1. The Jews, who rejected Jesus as Lord, often were mortal enemies of the early Christians. St. Paul's preconversion testifies amply to that. Cf. Acts 6:1ff. I also interpret St. Matthew's Gospel as an attempt to convert the scattered Messianicly oriented Jews after the destruction of Jerusalem by Titus. Revelation is an apology for the witness to Jesus as "the Messiach Adonai, the Lord's Anointed."
2. Gnosticism, like Christianity, claimed to be a "mystery" religion. The mystery is that knowledge that can only be learned from those who knew the mystery. The mysteries were revealed knowledge not discoverable knowledge. The Gnostics were "The Big House" theory of ancient religion. All religions could live under the "Big House" that Gnosticism built. It was the ancient version of the B'hai faith. It was mysterious and had elaborate explanations of the cosmos. Jesus, along with the whole host of pagan gods and goddesses, was one of many demi-urges or emanations from the Godhead. He was an avenue to their spiritual goal, a messenger/angel who brought people the true [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.]/gnosis/knowledge about life beyond this world. They regarded the mortal flesh as evil and incapable of redemption and restoration. An example I'll cite later on is from the closing Logia of the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas, vs. 114. It is a Gospel of some renown with otherwise unknown fragments of what are claimed to be Jesus' words or teachings. These strange teachings are, to St. John, the deep things of the Satan. Cf. Rev. 2:24
3. The Pantheonic inclusivists are best described in Acts 16. The dictionary refers to them as pagans. However, an internet browser search reveals at least a thousand pagan web sites. The Greek-Roman religion tried to absorb all gods and demi-gods into one comprehensive religion. The Romans knew they needed a unifying spiritual dynamic to hold their vast and varied empire together. They knew a religion that included and honored the gods of every country and culture would serve as that force. Much has been written about their religion. It will be mentioned only in passing here. The Greek and Roman Pantheon of gods with Jupiter (R.) and Zeus (G.) served as the head god(s). Most of their gods were personifications of human traits. If you needed a god of love, peace or any virtue, vice or trait they had one or two or more gods or goddesses. Everything you can imagine in human affairs in grossly exaggerated form and power was represented by a god or a myth involving humans and their gods or demi-gods.
4. The cult of the Emperor is essentially an offshoot of the Pantheonic culture. In a world where the gods were most often superhuman extensions of ordinary or extraordinary people, it was only natural to elevate the most powerful human being on earth into godhood (apotheosis). The Cult of the Emperor was probably the most important physical enemy that faced St. John's congregations. It was responsible for his exile and the execution of many Christians. The Christians were once considered only a sect of Judaism. The Jews had been tolerated for refusing to accept pagan idols and theology. By the time of Nero, Christianity was recognized as a separate religion. The Cult of the Emperor is also a major reason for the coded language of Revelation.
It is into this world of religion that St. John brings the Revelation of Jesus the Christ. The religions were not supposed to compete for converts because the official state religion wanted all diverse points represented in the official paganism. However, Christians got in big trouble for having no commonality with Romans or Jews. The Christians of course refused to bow down and salute Caesar as Lord. When the persecutions of the Christians began, it was obvious many of them would rather die than worship the false gods or Caesar.
5. The last target group is the extreme, but very powerful secret or mystery religion of Mithraism. This religion was a totally verbal religion. It had no manuscripts and even no inscriptions in its temples. It was, however, widespread among the soldiers in the Roman army and could be found all across the Roman Empire. This was a totally male religion. Among its very rare painted symbols on the walls of the Mithraum was that of Mithras, who was to them "The" most powerful god. He is the one poweful enough to control the Universe as they understood it. (An article on this religion is found in the magazine Biblical Archeology Review Sep./Oct. 1994 Vol. 20 #5.) Mithras was the bull-slayer, meaning he moved their Spring equinox out of the Zodiac sign of Taurus into Aries. Salvation, too, was by knowing and learning the meaning of the stars and heavens and what was beyond them. Dr. David Ulansey wrote this very credible and remarkable article and it is also found on the internet.
What is it that re-ligion ties back together? Just what is the cosmos/ universe? The October 1999 Vol. 196, No. 4 of National Geographic brings to light the incredible vastness of the universe/cosmos that is totally beyond the grasp of almost everyone's imagination. What this seems to do, is produce what I call the "Hubble Effect." The Hubble space telescope has shown us an incomprehensibly vast cosmos. This brings with it the problem of, how can the God be over, above, and beyond something so incomprehensible? How then can the God, so far above and beyond, still care about, much less love, microscopic little me? In the vastness of space and time you and I are so incredibly small that we're sold the bill of goods that the God is too busy for us, we don't count, or what we do really can't matter. So go for all of the "gusto" or whatever you care to pursue. The "Hubble Effect" is very destructive of faith. Instead of showing us how infinite and great the God is, to bring this into existence and maintain it in order/cosmos, we are instead led to see ourselves as virtually nothing so that sin, grace, salvation and damnation don't really matter.
It is also helpful to define just how it is possible to talk about the God. In the Greco-Roman culture the most common way of describing their gods was to make them into a super-human set of deities. The "personification" of these deities is an important element in Revelation. When we define the God we are limited to human expressions in words or pictures. The Greek language is truly a picture language while English is a label language, to over simplify. These are the ways that we define the God. We use either anthropomorphic or anthropopathic language. Anthropomorphic/[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.] means in the "form or shape of a human being." Anthropopathic/[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.] means having "human emotions or feelings." So we say "... at the right hand of the God the Father" all the while knowing that the God, as spirit, doesn't have hands at all. Our language is therefore symbolic. Since we know what love is, the God uses our feelings, emotions or actions to show that His relationship to us is [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.]/agapé/no-gap, an embrace showing former sins no longer cause the gap. Sin caused the separation but the gap is closed by the God in Jesus the Christ. The language describing the God with human emotions/ feelings is called anthropopathic. All biblical images or descriptions are thus limited by the natural limitations of our language in describing the God. Language, biblically, is also the God's creation and gift. It just didn't happen or evolve. Cf. Gen. 1 & 2
Let's take a closer look into the book of Revelation. Who wrote it? When and how did it acquire a place in the books of the New Testament? What is the central message? What does the book mean? How shall Christians approach the study of the last book of the Bible? Luther took a very dim view of it. In fact he did not hesitate at all to add it as a sort of epilogue to his translation of the Bible, but without page numbers, just as he did with Hebrews, James and Jude, as part of a New Testament version of the Old Testament Apocrypha.
What is "revelation" or "apocalypse?" The Greek language uses a very high percentage of "picture words." In the original we find the picture the word paints as "to be behind the veil." The bride, in an age of arranged marriages, was not seen by her husband until after the marriage ceremony. Her unveiling was truly a "revelation" a "removing of the opaque veil" to see what he had received in the bargain. Thus as a veil hides clear and sharp perspectives, once it is removed, it allows the hidden to be exposed to light and seen. The last book of the Bible was purposely written in "veiled" language, like a code, possibly to escape destruction by the enemies of Christ. During persecutions book burnings were quite common. However, those who knew the code, the initiates, could interpret the veiled language to the seekers and the faithful.
Revelation is a part of a vast amount of similar apocalyptic or coded literature. Most writings of this sort are prophetic, in that they are mostly filled with dire predictions. They are also filled with incredible hybrid animals and objects used to scourge the earth. None of that literature is Holy Scripture or belongs in the canon. I mention it only to note that the other apocalypses use a similar style and use some of the same wordings and sentence structures as found in Revelation. It even appears that St. John's writing becomes their model. None of the apocalyptical writings were as carefully written or structured as Revelation. The outline will show how carefully structured Revelation is. The other apocalyptic literature becomes a vast resource for studying this book and understanding some of its symbols. The other apocalyptical literature usually employs the same dualism as found in Revelation, i.e. the battles and struggles between good and evil on a cosmic level. This is the one major reason Luther rejected this book as a part of the canon. It was "holy" scripture, in that it witnessed to and confessed Jesus the Christ as Lord, but Luther insisted it was not to be used for establishing any doctrines.
Excerpted from "Revelation! What Did The First Audience Hear?" by ROGER PHILLIP DREWS Copyright © 2012 by Rev. Roger Phillip Drews. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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