corner graphic   Hi,    
ver. 2.0.20.01.19
Finding the new version too difficult to understand? Go to classic.studylight.org/

Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Apocalypse

Resource Toolbox
Additional Links

I. Introductions

1. The word ‘apocalypse’ in the NT.-ἀποκάλυψις (‘revelation’) occurs some eighteen times in the NT. The general sense is ‘instruction concerning Divine things before unknown-especially those relating to the Christian salvation-given to the soul by God or the ascended Christ, especially through the operation of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 2:10)’ (Thayer Grimm’s Gr.-Eng. Lexicon of the NT, tr. Thayer ) The word was important to St. Paul when he wished to express his independence of the first apostles in reference to his knowledge of the gospel and even to the steps taken to come to an understanding with them (Ephesians 3:3, Galatians 2:2). The object of ἀποκάλυψις is, therefore, a mystery (Romans 16:25). The gospel without it would remain unknown, with it it is an ‘open secret.’* [Note: Denney, et al.] The source, as also the end or object, of ἀποκάλυψις is God or Jesus Christ, and the mode may be vision or ecstasy (2 Corinthians 12:1). It may also be, however, events which strike the general eye, e.g. ‘the righteous judgment of God’ (Romans 2:5); ‘ἀποκάλυψις of the sons of God’ (Romans 8:19), i.e. ‘the glory that is manifestly given to some, showing them to be sons of God’; ‘ἀποκάλυψις of the glory of Christ’ (1 Peter 4:13), i.e. ‘the glory with which He will return from heaven’ (Thayer Grimm’s Gr.-Eng. Lexicon of the NT, tr. Thayer ). The return is called the ‘ἀποκάλυψις of the Lord Jesus Christ’ (2 Thessalonians 1:7, 1 Corinthians 1:7, 1 Peter 1:2; 1 Peter 1:13). As a prophet is one to whom truth comes not from man but from God, what he utters may be called an ἀποκάλυψις, and he himself may be said to ‘have an ἀποκάλυψις,’ or to speak ἐν ἀποκαλύψει (1 Corinthians 14:26; cf. 1 Corinthians 5:6). It is a fact of much suggestiveness for the subject of this article (see below) that, so far as the NT is concerned, the prophet and the apocalyptist may be considered one and the same.

2. The NT Apocalypse of John as the type of apocalyptic writings.-Though in the sense of the Christian creed the whole Bible is by pre-eminence the literature of apocalypse or revelation, there is only one book in each Testament to which the name has been given. In the NT we have the Apocalypse of John and in the OT we have the Book of Daniel, which is unmistakably both in style and substance of the same literary genus. The latter is-apart from what may be called apocalyptic fragments in the older prophetical writings, e.g. Is 24-the oldest known Apocalypse, and has served as a model for subsequent writings of the class. Daniel and the Apocalypse of John mark respectively the beginning and the end of what may be called the apocalyptic period, which thus covers upwards of 260 years (say 168 b.c. to a.d. 96).† [Note: Daniel belongs to the time of the persecution of the Jews under the Greek-Syrian king Antiochus Epiphanes (168-165 b.c.); the Apoc. of John probably to the persecution of the Christians under the Roman emperor Domitian (a.d. 81-96).] It thus appears that, while there is an apocalyptic element in practically all the books of the NT (see below), there is only one writing belonging to the Apostolic Age which is as a whole of the apocalyptic class, and which, despite much controversy in the early centuries,‡ [Note: The canonicity of the Apocalypse was controverted, esp. in the Eastern Church, and it was not till a.d. 215 that the Western Church, under the leadership of Hippolytus, accepted it. The East finally yielded to the West.] has held its place among the books of authority recognized by the Christian Church. This circumstance alone might warrant the almost exclusive devotion of this article to an account of this book, but such concentration offers, besides, the advantage of showing the leading features of the apocalyptic style as they appear, so to speak, synthetically, interwoven with an actual situation-a crisis-on which the mind of the apocalyptist reacts. In regard to the uncanonical apocalypses, if one may not say, after studying the Apocalypse, ‘Ex uno disce omnes,’ one may remember the attention paid to the lesser apocalypses during the last half-century, and say that the creepers have not suffered from the overshadowing of the cypress.§ [Note: Ecl. i. 25f., quoted by Moffatt (EGT v. 295).]

3. Non-canonical apocalypses of the Apostolic Age.-As, however, both the Apocalypse and the other books of the NT contain implicit references, and, in at least one case,* [Note: Judges 1:14 f.; cf. Eth. En. 1:9.] an explicit reference to other apocalypses, a list may here be given of the non-canonical apocalypses, either wholly or partly extant, and of others whose existence may be inferred from quotations of them found in the early Fathers. They may be classified under three heads: (A) Jewish, (B) Jewish-Christian, (C) Hellenic or Gentile.

(A) Under this head fall: (a) The cycle known as Enoch, which includes: (a) The Ethiopic Enoch, so called because it survives chiefly in an Ethiopic Version. It includes: (1) chs. 1-36, 72-108 (circa, about 100 b.c.); (2) chs. 37-71 (‘Book of Similitudes’), which belongs probably to the early days of the Herodian dynasty, and is therefore close to the Christian era. In this book† [Note: 48:2f., 62:2 etc. See L. A. Muirhead, The Times of Christ, Edinburgh, 1905, pp. 141f., 147.] occur those references to the pre-existent Messiah under the title ‘Son of man,’ which Hilgenfeld and others hare ascribed to Christian interpolation, but whose direct debt is probably only to Daniel (see esp. Daniel 7:13). (β) The Slavonic Secrets of Enoch, before a.d. 70.-(b) Assumption of Moses (q.v. [Note: quod vide, which see.] ) not later than a.d. 10.-(c) Apocalypse of Ezra, usually cited as Fourth Ezra (=2 Esdras [q.v. [Note: quod vide, which see.] ] of English ‘Apocrypha,’ chs. 3-14), after a.d. 90.-(d) Apocalypse of Baruch (q.v. [Note: quod vide, which see.] ), about the same time as 4 Ezra.-(e) The Testament of Abraham, perhaps the 1st cent. a.d.-(f) The Testaments of the XII. Patriarchs (q.v. [Note: quod vide, which see.] ), probably the 1st cent. a.d.-(a), (b), (d), and (f) are best accessible to the English reader in the careful editions of R. H. Charles, Oxford, 1893, 1897, 1896, 1908. In regard to (c), we have, in addition to the scholarly editions of James and Bensly, G. H. Bon’s The Ezra-Apocalypse (London, 1912). For (e), we have the edition of M. R. James (Cambridge, 1892). N.B.-See now also R. H. Charles, Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha of the OT, Oxford, 1913.

Closely related to the apocalyptical books are: (g) The Psalms of Solomon, 64-40 b.c., edited by Ryle and James (Cambridge, 1891) under the alternative title Psalms of the Pharisees.-(h) The Book of Jubilees, probably before Christ. See Charles’ translation in Jewish Quarterly Review vi. [1894] 710, vii. [1895] 297.-(i) The Ascension of Isaiah (q.v. [Note: quod vide, which see.] )-Jewish part=the Martyrdom of Isaiah (2:1-3:12 and 5:2-14), Charles’ edition (London, 1900). In addition to these extant books are 4, which are known to us only through citations In Origen and other Fathers: (j) The Prayer of Joseph; (k) The Book of Eldad and Medad; (l) The Apocalypse of Elijah; (m [Note: ] ) The Apocalypse of Zephaniah.

(B) Under this head would fall not be much apocalypses written independently by Jews who were Christians-for, if we except the Apocalypse of John, such books are hardly known to have existed-as (a) Selections from Jewish apocalypses of matter embodying beliefs common to Jews and Christians; and (b) Christian interpolations of Jewish apocalypses. Of these (a) are by far the more frequent. The OT was the Bible of the early Christians, and such an example as that of Judges 1:14 f. (cf. En. 1:9), taken along with the implicit references to apocalyptic writings which are found in the Apocalypse and other books of the NT (see below), reveals a tendency among the Christians to extend the range of the Canon; it points at the same time to the large amount of matter, both within and beyond the Canon, that was common to Jews and Christians. It is, indeed, a fact worthy of special notice that at an early period, which we may date roughly from the fall of the Jewish State in a.d. 70, apocalyptic literature begins to lose interest for the Synagogue in proportion as it gains it for the Christian Church. This fact invents the apocalyptic literature with a peculiar interest for the student of the Apostolic Age. There is the general question as to how that age of early Christians came to value and even to produce apocalyptic books, which we convert here into the more concrete question, How could it produce the Apocalypse of John? There is the dogmatic question, What are the elements in this book which entitle it to the position of authority it holds to this day? For (b), examples of Christian interpolation may be found in The Ascension of Isaiah, which is Christian in all but 2:1-3:12 and 5:2-14; and in chs. 1 and 2, and 15 and 16 of 4 Ezra which are sometimes quoted as 5 and 6 Ezra respectively.

(C) Hellenic apocalypses.-The Sibylline Oracles (q.v. [Note: quod vide, which see.] ), ‘Jewish works under a heathen mask’ (Schürer), are the best instance under this head. They are the work or Hellenistic Jews, and are written in Greek hexameters for Gentiles, under names which have authority for such readers. The fact that they have been subjected to considerable Christian interpolation testifies to the extent of their circulation. Much the best edition of them, based on 14 Manuscripts , is that of Rzach (Oracula Sibyllina, Vienna, 1891). English readers may consult Schürer’s History of the Jewish People (Eng. tr. of GJV).] ii. iii. 288-92; Edinb. Review (July 1877); Deane’s Pseudepigrapha (1891), 276ff.; Charles’ Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha, ii.

As an example or distinctively Christian work, produced under more decidedly Hellenic influence than is to be found in works of Jewish origin, may be mentioned the Apocalypse of Peter, a large part of which was edited for the English reader in 1892. Strong claims to canonicity were made for it in early times, and its teaching largely influenced later Christian ideas of heaven and hell. ‘It is as strongly Greek as Revelation [the Apoc. of John] is Jewish, having a close relation to the Greek Orphic Literature. It concerns the lot of souls after death, whereas Revelation, like the Jewish apocalypses, is more concerned with the course of world-history’ (Porter, from whose Messages of the Apoc. Writers, 7ff., these lists are mainly taken).

4. Period and general characteristics of apocalyptic literature.-Before passing to an account of the Apocalypse of John we must try to form a definite idea of the characteristic features of apocalyptic literature-its design, form, and leading ideas. From the point of view of the student of the NT, apocalypse must be considered as of purely Jewish growth.* [Note: That is to say, questions as to the affinities of the phraseology and conceptions with those or heathen mythology belong rather to the study of the OT. Long before ‘John’ writes, the mythological conceptions have passed through the mill of the spirit that is distinctive of the Jewish faith. What further refinement they need is supplied by the mill of the Christian fulfilment.] As we have seen, the period within which apocalyptic literature was produced occupied over a century and a half before the birth of Christ and about a century after. It is thus the accompaniment and interpretation of the last great struggle of the Jewish people for that political independence-with an implicit idea of supremacy-which seemed to be due to the Chosen People. Within this period fall the comparative victory (Maccabaean triumph), varying fortunes (political importance, accompanied with decline of religious fervour; dissensions between the lax hellenizing and the puritanical patriotic party), and the ultimate seeming extinction (capture of Jerusalem by Titus a.d. 70) of this ideal. The apocalyptists are the instructors and encouragers of the people in the name of God in reference to that Kingdom which, in spite of the greatness of the world-powers that are their rivals and the enemies of Jahweh, is yet to come to them from God and to be realized in the world. In Daniel, which belongs to the period of the Maccabaean struggle, we may see the high-water mark of spiritual faith reached by this ideal; in the fact that after the fall of the Jewish State, the kernel† [Note: Yet what is here said is not altogether true of the Jews of the Dispersion.] of the nation, the Jews of the stricter synagogue, ceased to cherish the apocalypses and perhaps even suppressed‡ [Note: The apocalypses survive for the most part not in their native Hebrew or Aramaic but in Greek, and in the dialects of the districts where they were received, and where they were read more by Christians than by Jews.] them, we have an index of the limitations of the ideal. The Kingdom, however loftily conceived by the seers of the nation, was still in the actual thought of the orthodox Jew too much of this world and of his own nation. Between this flow and ebb lies the history of apocalypse, as it is to be read within the limits of Judaism. It is a record of great hopes and fidelities, but also of great disappointments and of failures both in conception and fulfilment. The great apocalypses were written in periods of stress. Judging from Daniel, we may say, perhaps, the greater the stress the truer the inspiration of the apocalyptist. The leading ideas are simple but great; the tribulation is real. It will last for a measured while, and even increase. The troubling powers are fierce and violent. They rage like wild beasts and seem to be of great power; but their power passes, and the Kingdom comes to the faithful and the patient. Death does not end everything either for the faithful or for the lawless, and there is special bliss for those who lose life for righteousness’ sake.§ [Note: Daniel 12:2 is fairly cited as probably the only passage in the OT that clearly teaches a bodily resurrection for individual Israelites. The resurrection would seem to be universal as regards Israel (though this la doubtful), but nothing is said of the heathen.]

As to the literary form of the apocalypses, the most salient distinguishing feature is a certain obscurity of imagery, which sometimes takes the form of a grotesqueness, and of an incongruity in details, winch are excusable only upon The supposition that the awkward imagery was capable of the twofold task of conveying the meaning to those for whom it was intended, and of veiling it from others.

This obscurity of style is connected with the fact that apocalypses were, so far as we know, in nearly every case pseudonymous. Daniel was not written, like the prophecies of Isaiah or Jeremiah, to be spoken. It was written to be read. Probably in the case of the author of Daniel, the pseudonymity was due, not so much to the feeling* [Note: The feeling was, however, undoubtedly present. The author’s appeal to ‘books’ is a confession of it (Daniel 9:2; cf. Jeremiah 25:11 f.). See L. A. Muirhead, The Eschatology of Jesus, London, 1904, p. 71ff.] that he would not be accepted by his fellow-countrymen as a prophet, as to the necessity of eluding the hostility and even the suspicion of the Syrian authorities. A prophet might be arrested in the street, a living author might be traced to his desk. But what could the Syrian do with the influence of writings that were three centuries old? The example of the author of Daniel made pseudonymity a fashion. Writers who had no cause to fear arrest, but some perhaps to fear neglect, wrote in the names of prophets or saints of bygone days. It is difficult for us to conceive how any one able to handle a pen could have been deceived by such fictions. On the other hand, there is a certain impressiveness in the fact that questions regarding the real state of matters (in the literary sense) do not seem to have emerged. Readers and interpreters of the apocalypses were concerned with their message for their own time. If an interpreter had thoughts of his own regarding the literary structure of an apocalypse, he suppressed them. His instinct told him, as its equivalent tells the modern preacher, that a text does not become the word of God until it is released from bondage to its historical meaning. At the same time their artificial literary style takes from the spiritual value of the apocalyptic writings. If real history, in so far as it deals with the past, is a veil-though a transparent one-between God and the spirit of the reader, the fiction of history, behind which the apocalyptic writer found it necessary (even were it in the interest of his message) to conceal himself, becomes, at least for later readers, a veil that is opaque. Parables that are puzzles can hardly be edifying. Some of the parables of Daniel are puzzles to this day. It is a question of some moment how far such criticism applies to the canonical Apocalypse of the NT.

Besides community in general ideas and in pseudonymity, apocalypses have a certain community in imagery. There is, as it were, a sample stock of images always accessible to the apocalyptist.

On the side of good, we have (to take great examples) God and His throne, angels such as Michael and Gabriel, or angelic beings resembling men (of whom the chief, when he appears at all, is the Messiah), books written with the names of the saints, the paradise of God with its trees of healing and nourishment, the new creation with its wonders specialized in the new city and temple. On the side of evil, we have Satan, the opposer, deceiver, accuser, the monster of the deep (dragon or crocodile), wild beasts of the land, which, however, rise out of the deep,† [Note: Revelation 13:1 ff., Daniel 7:3 ff., 4 Ezr. 13:1ff. In the last passage the figure of ‘one like a man’ (the Messiah) rises from the sea, and then flies among the clouds, and the explanation is given; ‘As none can find out what is in the depths of the sea, so none of the inhabitants of the earth can see my son and his companions save at the hour of his day’ (v. 5f.). The depth of the sea rather than the height of heaven seemed to ‘Ezra’ the surest stronghold of secrets that should be inaccessible to men. On the representation of this idea in the Genesis narratives of creation and the relation of the latter to the Babylonian myth of Marduk and Tiâmat, see Gunkel, Schöpfung u. Chaos, 1895.] a ‘man of lawlessness’ who embodies all blasphemy, a ‘great whore’ who incarnates all the abominations of the heathen world. In view of this sameness of the underlying imagery, the originality of an apocalyptist is to be seen more in the use of his material than in the material itself. The forces of good and evil remain the same, the general aspect of conflict between them-the inherent strength of God’s rule and the imminent collapse of the devil’s-remains to the prophetic eye the same, but persons and events change. The apocalyptist of truly prophetic spirit has his eye fixed on God and his own time; and, while he uses what, abstractly considered, seems a cumbrous and partly alien literary form, he does so not to exercise a literary gift but to convey a message, the urgency of which lies on his spirit as a ‘burden’ of the Lord. An obvious criterion of the rightfulness of his claim to be a prophet will be the ease and freedom with which he is able to adapt the material, imposed by his choice of the apocalyptic form, to the purpose of his message.

Judged in this way, the Apocalypse of John shines in a light which no student of early Christian literature can call other than brilliant. Whatever difficulties were felt by the early Fathers in giving it a place in the Canon, there is no book of the NT whose claim, once admitted, has been less a matter of subsequent doubt. Until less than a century ago, the Apocalypse was supposed to contain a forecast* [Note: In an obvious sense, of course, the book did contain such a forecast. As with every prophet, the end is within the vision of the writer. In his case it is to come ‘shortly’-i.e., most likely within his own generation.] of the entire career of the Church in time, but the modification, of this view through the clear perception that both prophets and apocalyptists wrote for their own time, attaching to its needs and prospects a certain finality, has not altered the belief of Christians in the permanent spiritual value of this unique book.

II. The Apocalypse of John

1. Scheme of the book.-It is not possible to supply in this article anything like a Commentary or even an adequate introduction to the Apocalypse. Yet it may be useful to precede a discussion of some of its salient features with the following scheme of its contents, which is an abbreviated version of that given by F. C. Porter in his invaluable manual (op. cit. 179f.).

Superscription, Revelation 1:1-3.

A. The messages of Christ to His Churches represented by the Seven Churches of Asia, Revelation 1:4 to Revelation 3:22.

(a) Introduction, including salutation, theme, attestation, Revelation 1:4-8.

(b) The Seer’s Call, Revelation 1:9-20.

(c) The Seven Messages, chs. 2 and 3.

B. Visions of Judgment, composing the body of the book (chs. 4-20) intersected at chs. 7, 11, 14, and 19, with visions of the victory and bliss of the faithful.

(a) Visions of God and Christ respectively performing and revealing, chs. 4 and 5.

(b) First stages of the Judgment, including the opening of six seals,† [Note: There are pauses after the 6th seal and the 6th trumpet. The 7th seal contains, as it were, the 7 trumpets, and the 7th trumpet contains the 7 bowls.] the salvation of the faithful, and the destruction of one-third of mankind at the sounding of six trumpets, chs. 6-9.

(c) Last stages of the, Judgment, issuing in the final overthrow of Satan and Rome, especially the imperial cultus (the ‘Beast’), and in the General Resurrection and Judgment. The Seer receives a new commission. He describes the conflict between the worshippers or the Beast and the followers of the Lamb, and his vision of the wrath of God in seven bowls, chs. 10-20. Note that a large portion of this section consists of assurances to the faithful and of songs of triumph, and much the greater part of the judgment portion (chs. 12, 17, 18, and 19) describes the fall of Rome.

C. The Blessed Consummation, including the coming of God to dwell with men and the descent of the Heavenly Jerusalem, chs. 21 and 22. Note that both the Epilogue and the Prologue of the book solemnly emphasize the claim to be considered ‘prophecy’ (Revelation 22:18 f; cf. Revelation 1:3).

2. Examples of the problems.-A few specimens may be given of the many fascinating problems which emerge for the student regarding: (1) the literary structure of the Apocalypse; (2) the significance of some of its more prominent details.

(1) In spite of its being, more than almost any other book of the NT (see below), saturated with reminiscences of books of the OT (esp. Dan., Ezek., Is., Jer., Joel, and generally all the portions of the OT which describe visions of God or offer pictures of bliss or woe), the book leaves the reader with a strong impression of its spiritual unity. The writer is a Christian and a prophet. His central positive theme is Christ Crucified, Risen, and Ascended (Revelation 1:17 f, Revelation 5:6; Revelation 5:12 ff.). The warrant, substance, and spirit of his prophecy are ‘the testimony of Jesus,’ a phrase in which the of seems to include both a subjective and an objective meaning* [Note: The words ‘the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy’ are a gloss (see the Commentaries), but they are entirely true to the writer’s thought (rev 1:1), and from with 1 Corinthians 12:3 an interesting witness to the test applied to prophets in the early Church.] (Revelation 19:10; cf. Revelation 1:1 ff.). The world to come is imminent, and its inheritors are the worshippers of God and the Lamb (Revelation 1:5 f, Revelation 7:9 ff. etc.).

It is evident, however, as a few examples will be sufficient to show, that this general unity goes along with great looseness in the assimilation of borrowed material.

Examples: (a) Ch. 11 is made up of portions of two apocalypses, one or which (represented by Revelation 11:1-2) belongs to the time of the siege of Jerusalem (circa, about a.d. 70), and the other embodies a portion of the Antichrist legend, which related how Antichrist would slay Enoch and Elijah, returned from heaven, who would, however, be raised up by God or His angels Gabriel and Michael (see Bousset’s Antichrist; and Tert. de Anima). In thy Apocalypse, Enoch becomes Moses, and what was previously described (Revelation 11:2) as the ‘holy city’ becomes ‘spiritually Sodom and Egypt, where the Lord was crucified’ (Revelation 11:8). The general purpose-to teach that the worshippers or the true God are safe (Revelation 11:1-2), and that the powers of wicked men will not prevail against the testimony or law and prophecy to the true God (Revelation 11:3-12)-is evident. But it is equally evident that the author is hampered in the expression of this message by a superabundance of borrowed and not quite congruous material. Though the time of the testimony of the two witness in Revelation 11:3 corresponds with that during which the holy city is to be trodden under foot by the Gentiles (cf. Revelation 11:2-3), the situation of the city at Revelation 11:13 does not correspond with that indicated at Revelation 11:2 any more than the holy city of the latter verse corresponds with ‘Sodom and Egypt’ of Revelation 11:8.

(b) An example or Composite structure, better known to modern students of the Apocalypse (through Gunkel’s Schöpf. u. Chaos), but more difficult to exhibit with precision, is the vision in ch. 12 of the Messiah-mother and the Dragon seeking to devour her child. The teaching of ‘John’ is, again, evident enough. Satan has been overthrown by the birth and ascension of the Messiah. He has been cast down from heaven, but he is still permitted to persecute the Messianic community on earth. If his wrath is fierce, it is because his time is short. Let the persecuted lend their ear to the loud voice saying in heaven: Now is come salvation-and the Kingdom of our God’ (Revelation 12:17; Revelation 12:12; Revelation 12:10). It is clear, however, that, apart from a desire to use materials which lay to his hand in fragments of Jewish apocalypses, which borrowed and combined Babylonian, Egyptian, and Greek myths, he would not have expressed his meaning in the way we find in this chapter. The scene begins in heaven, and the woman is described (Revelation 12:1) in language appropriate to a goddess. Then she appears (Revelation 12:6), without explanation, on the earth, where she finds refuge and nourishment in the wilderness. The Dragon then cast out of heaven to the earth (Revelation 12:9), although this ejection seems already to be assumed at Revelation 12:4, and on the earth he pursues the woman to her retreat in the wilderness. A Christian meaning can doubtless be put into it all, but no one narrator could ever spontaneously have told the story in this way. For a brief and lucid attempt to conceive the possible process through which the immediate and remote materials passed in the hands of ‘John,’ see Porter, op. cit. 236ff.

(2) Of problems turning on more special points we have good instances in ch. 13. We may feel satisfied that the first Beast is, in general, the Roman Empire embodied in the person of the Emperor, while the second (the lamb that ‘spake as a dragon,’ Revelation 13:11) is the priesthood of the Imperial cultus exercising a lamb-like office with all the ferocity of dragon-like tyrants. We may be satisfied also that under the imagery of the first Beast the author must have thought both of Nero and Domitian. Still the questions remain: (a) What is the ‘deadly wound’ that was healed (Revelation 13:12)? (b) Who is the ‘man’ whose number is the number of the Beast (Revelation 13:18)? (c) Is the ‘number’ 666, or, as in some Manuscripts , 616? These three questions are closely interdependent. It has been argued that, as the Beast is rather the Empire than an individual Emperor, the wound should refer to some event of public rather than of personal import. To the objection that Revelation 13:18 speaks expressly of the ‘number of a man,’ it is replied that, on the analogy of Revelation 21:17, this may simply mean that the number is to be reckoned in a human and not in a heavenly or angelic way. It is found that the Greek letters* [Note: The letters of both the Greek and the Hebrew alphabets have each a numerical value.] of the phrase meaning ‘the Latin Kingdom’ give the number 666, while the value of the letters in ‘the Italian Kingdom’ is 616. Against the identification of the Beast with Nero it is further argued that the Hebrew equivalent of ‘Nero Caesar,’ rightly spelt (i.e. with the yod [’] in ‘Caesar’),† [Note: Åéñø not Åñø; cf. art. Antichrist.] gives not 666 but 676. Accepting this point of view, we should still have to ask, What were the events that were respectively the inflicting and the healing of a deadly wound, and we are presented with the alternative theories: assassination of Julius Caesar (wound), accession of Augustus (healing); end of the Julian dynasty in Nero (wound), rise of the Flavian dynasty (healing). On the other hand, it is contended that, apart even from Revelation 21:18, the whole passage is too intense and too definite in its reference to exclude particular Emperors from the view of the author or his readers. He must have thought of Nero. Almost as certainly he must have thought of Domitian, whom he conceived as Nero Redivivus (Revelation 17:11), and, not improbably, he also thought of Caligula, to whose attempt to set up his own statue in Jerusalem the Apocalypse of the blasphemous beast (considered as material borrowed by ‘John’) might be supposed to have originally referred.‡ [Note: v. 5 with the description of Antiochus Epiphanes in Daniel 11:36 ff. It seems to the present writer that ‘John’ may have thought of Domitian as combining Caligula and Nero in himself in much the same way as the Beast, which in Rome (Revelation 13:3), combines in itself alt the ferocities of Daniel’s first three beast (lion, bear leopard, Daniel 7:4 ff.). Like 4 Ezr. 12:10ff. he would consider Daniel’s fourth beast to be Rome.] . This might explain the variant 616, which is the number of Caligula’s name. The omission of the yod in writing the Hebrew form of Caesar is not a serious difficultly (see Moffatt, op. cit.). Finally, Gunkel, finding the Bab. [Note: Babylonian.] original of the Beast in the chaos-monster Tiâmat overcome (in the creation myth) by Marduk, has shown that the Heb. words תְּהוֹם קַדְּמוֹנִיָה (Tehôm kadhmônîyah = ‘the primitive monster’) give the number 666. It might be supposed, therefore, that what struck ‘John’ was that the number of this primaeval beast, traditionally familiar to him, was also the number of a man, viz. Nero. There are serious linguistic Objections to this view (see Moffatt), but it may suggest to us that the number containing three sixes had a traditional meaning. It may have meant the constant effort and failure of what is human to attain the Divine perfection, of which the number 7 was the symbol: so near yet so far off, ‘O the little more, and how much it is.’

All these varying views of ‘John’s’ meaning cannot be true in every particular. Yet we are, perhaps, nearer the truth in saying that portions of all of them must have passed through his mind than in deciding dogmatically in favour of one of them. It seems to the present writer that the loose way in which the prophet and pastor who wrote the Apocalypse dealt with the traditional material that lay to his hand was probably as intentional as the frequent grammatical anomalies and harsh Hebraisms of his text, which no Greek scholar supposes to be due to inadvertence. The man who had the literary genius and the prophetic inspiration to write the songs of triumph and the hortatory portions of the Apocalypse may be believed to have had a method in his carelessness. He was certainly capable of adopting a fixed style of writing and carrying it through in the way that style on the whole required. If he left some strings flying for his readers to cut or fasten up as the spirit might lead them, may it not be a sign that he considered himself and his companions in the ‘kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ’ to occupy a sphere which, just because it was supreme and Divine, was not hermetically sealed to the rest of the world, but was open, like the New Jerusalem, to receive testimony and tribute from every quarter?

3. The Apocalypse of John as a product of the Apostolic Age, and a testimony to Jesus as the Christ.-Enough has perhaps been said to show that questions regarding the importance and function of apocalyptic literature in the faith and life of the Apostolic Age are best answered in connexion with a study of the Apocalypse of John. No known apocalyptic writing of the same or greater bulk is comparable with it in vitality of connexion with primitive Christianity; and there is no likelihood that any such writing existed. Attention may be fastened on three matters: (a) the historical situation, (b) the relation of apocalypse to prophecy, (c) the hortatory and dogmatic teaching of the Apocalypse.

(a) The historical situation.-We have seen that the period of apocalyptic literature is roughly the 250 years of the last struggles of the Jewish people for political and religious independence. The first apocalypse of the OT is contemporaneous with the great sacrifices made by the élite of the Jewish people to maintain the national testimony to Jahweh. The sacrificial spirit passed into the community that confessed Jesus of Nazareth, crucified, risen, and ascended, as Lord and Messiah. Very early the sacrificial spirit was called forth. But the first persecutors were not heathen in name. They were the representatives of the city which ‘spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also the Lord was crucified’ (Revelation 11:8; cf. 1 Thessalonians 2:14 ff., 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12). To St. Paul the power of Antichrist lay in the jealousy of the Jewish synagogue, and it would seem from the passage in 2 Thessalonians 2 that the power ‘that restrains’ (ὁ κατέχων, τὸ κατέχον) is the Roman Empire. Certainly the representation in the Acts of the Apostles favours this view (Acts 16:37; Acts 21:32; Acts 22:25ff; Acts 25:10 f.). Between the ministry of St. Paul and the time of the Apocalypse a change had taken place. In the Apocalypse the Roman Empire is clearly the instrument of Antichrist. The Dragon gives power to the Beast (Revelation 13:4), and it is obvious that in ‘John’s’ time, and especially in the province of Asia, Christians were persecuted under Imperial authority simply because of their Christian profession. Christianity was a crime punishable with death, in so far as it was inconsistent with the worship of the Emperor (Revelation 1:9; Revelation 13:16 f.). Doubtless there were differences in the administration of the law, but the tone of the Letters to the Seven Churches (chs. 2 and 3) and of the whole Apocalypse indicates a time when the worst might be apprehended. The beginning of this Imperial attitude to the Christians may perhaps be found in the summer of a.d. 64, when, as Tacitus informs us (Ann. xv. 44), Nero sought to fasten on the Christians the odious charge of incendiarism, and it has been held that the Apocalypse belongs to the time of the Neronic persecution. This view may now be regarded as superseded. Nero is certainly a figure in the Apocalypse (see above), but he is a figure of the past. The Beast is alive in his bestial successor Domitian, whom ‘John’ considers Nero Redivivus* [Note: The ‘seven kings’ of Revelation 17:10 ff. are the seven emperors-exclusive of the usurpers Galba, Otho, and Vitellius-from Augustus to Nero. The ‘eighth that if of the seven’ (Revelation 17:11) is Domitian, considered as Nero Redivivus.] (cf. Revelation 13:3 with Revelation 17:11).

It was under Domitian that persecution of the Christians first became a part of the Imperial policy. It is this legalized persecution and the that the centre of the storm lies among the Churches of Asia that rouse the spirit of prophecy in the author of chs. 2 and 3, and, as we venture to think, of the whole Apocalypse. And, assuredly, it was the spirit of prophecy, and not of delusion, that gave him the certainty that the Lord Jesus would ‘come quickly’ to deliver His people from a situation in which the choice lay between death and unfaithfulness to Him. Every prophet is an eschatologist. He sees the end of what is opposed to the will of holiness and love. It is only for a moment-though the moments of God and history may be long-that cruelty and violence can reign or the meek and righteous be oppressed.

Revelation 13:17 seems to indicate an edict actually in force or about to be issued, under which ordinary contracts of exchange should not be legal apart from vows of allegiance to the Emperor as a Divine person. This meant that Christians were excluded from the business of the world, and so from the world itself, and to ‘John’ it seemed justly a challenge of God’s supremacy, which God and His Christ could not delay to take up. Quite apart from the peculiar genius of its author, the Apocalypse must have been to its first readers a message of comfort and power. Its appeal lay in its inevitableness. In the situation as described, no message short of that contained in the Apocalypse could have seemed worthy of God or a ‘testimony of Jesus Christ.’ Prophecy is never in vacuo. God’s word is in the mouth of His prophet because it is first in the events which His providence ordains or permits. It would be difficult to rate too highly the literary and spiritual genius of ‘John,’ yet the authoritativeness of his message for his own time and ours lies not in this but in its correspondence with a situation of crisis for the Kingdom of God. So long as it is possible for a situation to emerge in which we cannot obey man’s law without dishonouring God’s, the Apocalypse will be an authority ready for use in the hands of the godly.

(b) Apocalyptic and prophecy.-If this view is just, it contains the answer to two closely related questions: (1) Is the writer, as he represents himself, a ‘companion in tribulation’ of those to whom he writes (Revelation 1:9), or does he, like other apocalyptists, including Daniel, write under the name of some great personage of the past? (2) Is he really a prophet as well as an apocalyptist?

(1) The former question should be kept apart from the question whether the writer can reasonably be identified with the Apostle John. There is nowhere in the book the slightest hint of a claim to apostleship; Revelation 21:14 and Revelation 18:20 suggest rather that the author distinguished himself from the ‘holy apostles and prophets’ and from the ‘12 apostles’. We do not know enough regarding the Churches of Asia in the 1st cent. to say with confidence that only one who was as highly esteemed as John the Apostle (Ramsay) or John the Presbyter (Bousset) could be confident that his message would come with authority to those to whom it was addressed. On the other hand, it is more than possible, in view both of the literary apocalyptic convention of pseudepigraphy and of the probability that concealment of the author’s name was an act of warrantable prudence, that ‘John’ was not the author’s real name, and that (almost by consequence) the banishment in Patmos was, so far as he was concerned, fictitious. But the matter of real importance is not the question whether the names of person and place are fictitious; it is the fact that-supposing them to have been fictitious-here the fiction ends. The writer is a Christian. He is in the same situation with these he addresses. He neither desires nor attempts to place himself in the distant past. The Christian Church has its own prophets. Our author solemnly claims to be one of them, and the Church since the beginning of the 3rd cent. has taken him at his own estimate.* [Note: Porter (op. cit. 183) asks whether the Apocalypse is ‘a direct or a secondary product of that new inspiration’ [Christian prophecy], and he replies, rather disconcertingly: ‘Our impression is that it is secondary.’ No one has a better right to speak with authority than Porter. But it the inspiration of the Apocalypse is secondary, what measure have we by which to judge of that which is primary?]

(2) But is not an apocalyptist, ipso facto, only a pale shadow of a prophet? Must not ‘John’ be conceived, as regards inspiration, to stand to a speaking prophet, say of Ephesus, as ‘Daniel’ stands to the real Daniel or to some prophet of the time of Nebuchadrezzar? It seems to the present writer that the entire absence from the Apocalypse of such a fiction as that in Daniel, in which the past is in one part (the alleged writer’s time) adorned with legendary features, and in a much greater part (the centuries between the Exile and the Syrian Persecution) is treated fictitiously as future, separates it longo intervallo from apocalyptic writings of the purely Jewish type, or even from Christian apocalypses like the Apoc. of Peter, which resemble the Jewish type in the feature of impersonation. It may be probable, though it is far from certain, that ‘John’ conceals his real name, but the suggestion that he tried to personate any one, or sought any authority for his message other than what belonged to it as the testimony of Jesus given to himself, seems to be as destitute of probability as of proof.

What, we may ask, is a Christian prophet but one who has an ἀποκάλυψις (revelation) from God through Jesus Christ concerning matters pertaining to His Kingdom (1 Corinthians 14:24 ff., esp. 1 Corinthians 14:26; cf. Revelation 19:10)? If a Christian could speak so as to bring home to his brethren the reality of the promised Kingdom, or so as to flash the light of the Divine judgment on the darkened conscience of an unbeliever, he had the χάρισμα or gift of prophecy (1 Corinthians 14:22; 1 Corinthians 14:24 f.). St. Paul himself must have possessed the gift in an eminent degree. We judge so not simply from what is told in the Acts or from what he himself tells regarding the source from which he derived the contents and manner of his preaching or the directions necessary for his missionary journeys. We judge so rather from the correspondence existing between his claim to direct access to this source and the still operating influence of his personality upon the conscience and conduct of mankind. If it be said that St. Paul was a preacher, and ‘John’ was, so far as we know, only a writer, it may be asked in reply: What do we know of Paul the preacher that we do not learn best from his own writings? No companion of ‘John’ has told us (as Luke did of Paul) how he preached, but surely we may say that no one could write as ‘John’ does without being, under favourable conditions, a preacher, and that probably as much in proportion of ‘John’s’ Apocalypse as of St. Paul’s Epistles might have been preached as it stands to his own contemporaries. When it is remembered how apocalypses incomparably inferior in spiritual quality to the Apocalypse were cherished by the early Church and even quoted as Scripture, it will not seem hazardous to assert that in the Apostolic Age the distinction between apocalypse and prophecy, which is marked in the pre-Christian period by the separation of Daniel in the Hebrew Canon from ‘the Prophets,’ has ceased to exist. Two things, unnaturally separated (through the spirit of artifice), have come together again. The prophet is the man who has a ‘revelation,’ and the man who has a ‘revelation,’ whether he speak it or write it, is a prophet. If our argument is sound, we may venture to say that once at least this ideal unity of apocalypse and prophecy has been realized. It is realized in the Apocalypse of John.

(c) The hortatory and dogmatic teaching of the Apocalypse.-The best proof of the soundness of the above argument lies in the abundance of hortatory and dogmatic material of permanent value to be found in the Apocalypse. ‘John’ is, in a sense, the Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel of the NT. This is eminently true of the messages to the Seven Churches (chs. 2 and 3). Ramsay’s Letters to the Seven Churches of Asia (Lond. 1904) probably exaggerates the extent to which the writer may have had in his mind facts of geography and history relating to the places mentioned; but such a book-from the pen of an unrivalled authority on the antiquities of Asia Minor-could not have been written of the messages in chs. 2 and 3 of the Apocalypse did they not proceed from one who was thoroughly conversant with everything in the environment of the Churches of Asia which had a bearing on their spiritual condition. A writer who closes each message with the formula, ‘he that hath ears, etc.’ (Revelation 2:7; Revelation 2:11; Revelation 2:17; Revelation 2:29; Revelation 3:6; Revelation 3:13; Revelation 3:22; cf. Matthew 13:9; Matthew 13:43, etc.), claims to stand to those whom he addresses in the relation of a speaking prophet to his hearers. Those who remember the function these chapters still serve in that best type of Christian oratory in which preaching is prophesying, may justly feel that the onus probandi rests with those who deny the claim. But the immediately edifying elements of the Apocalypse are not confined to these chapter. The book is written, as it claims to be, in an atmosphere of worship.* [Note: Revelation 1:10. The opinion of scholars is against the rendering: ‘I was, through the Spirit, in the Day of the Lord (or the Day of Judgment),’ though this rendering: cannot be said to be grammatically impossible; and though it has the advantage of attaching a good traditional meaning to ‘Day of the Lord,’ which would thus retain its OT sense (Isaiah 2:12, Amos 5:20, etc.), yet it is hardly likely that ἐν would be used both in the instrumental and the local sense in one short sentence; and the analogy of Revelation 17:3 f., Revelation 21:10 suggests that, had the author intended this, meaning, he would have used a verb of transference (‘I was carried by the Spirit to, etc.’). The ‘Day of the Lord’ is, therefore, the Christian Sabbath, the day of worship.]

The inspiration came to ‘John’ on the day in which Christians remembered the Resurrection of the Lord. The book is a message from the Lord in heaven. Those who read and obey are blessed because the time of their deliverance is at hand. The sense of holy omnipotent power, not dominated by but manifested through suffering-fox the power is redemptive-pervades the book. Its refrain is Glory to God and to the Lamb (Revelation 1:5 f.), and the note of the triumphant thanksgiving of the faithful sounds, throughout, loudly behind the curtain of judgment that shrouds the wicked world (Revelation 5:4-14; Revelation 6:9


Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Apocalypse'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hdn/a/apocalypse.html. 1906-1918.

Lectionary Calendar
Sunday, January 19th, 2020
Second Sunday after Epiphany
ADVERTISEMENT
Search for…
Enter query in the box:
 or 
Choose a letter to browse:
A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M 
N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  Y  Z 

 
Prev Entry
Apelles
Next Entry
Apocalyptic Literature
ADVERTISEMENT
To report dead links, typos, or html errors or suggestions about making these resources more useful use our convenient contact form
Powered by Lightspeed Technology