First, a proposed addition to the Basilica of St. John memorial monument headstone, his epitaph would read:
John, the Beloved
“The disciple whom Jesus loved.”
6 BC to AD 100
Brother to the Disciple James
Entrusted by Jesus to care for His mother, Mary
This last book is a riddle inside a mystery wrapped up in an enigma is how a theology professor describes Revelation (paraphrasing a quote by Winston Churchill). Revelations has many interpretations as it does words to describe them: rapture, amillennialism, premillenialism, postmillennialism, dispensationalism, pre-tribulation, post-tribulation, etc. Even if it is at first glance confusing to read, it is an important book particularly for the believer (Christain and Jew) as our faiths are built on hope. This hope is described in the end times. Unfortunately, seldom is Revelation taught from the pulpit.
Some think that Revelation is written primarily for Israel. The supposition is that the fulfillment of prophecy for Israel was put on hold once the New Testament happened. In Revelation, God is reconvening with Israel in the fulfillment of the prophecy described. This final book of the Bible has captured the imaginations of many, a curiosity that continues to be unabated.
Jesus once responded to a remark made about the possible life “longevity” of the author disciple whom He loved (Jn. 21:22). He dignified the question with the response, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.” John’s brother, James the first of the disciples to die, with history showing John as the last. All the others met a violent death. However, John is thought to have died peacefully in Ephesus after a new emperor, Nerva, pardoned him from exile, returning him to that city where he lived out his days. Even though the events have not all happened, the Bible could not end without the book of Revelation.
The emperor’s predecessor banishes John to the barren rock island Patmos for the crime of preaching the Gospel. Legend has it that John was banished after not dying in the attempt to boiling him oil. Patmos was an island void of any signs of sustaining life (as in growing vegetation sustainable for a viable community). Rome used it as a prison. Patmos means “my killing.”
Here, typical of God’s style and timing, despite what human ruling powers think they control, is where John is given a divinely prophetic inspiration about events of the future return and coming of Jesus. There are four viewpoints about this book. Some think (the Preterits outlook) Revelation’s predictions have already happened in early church history, in the first century (possibly Nero’s persecution); others see it as a historical description of the end times (known as the historicist forecast). Then there is the view that its tale is about the constant conflict (seen as the idealist viewpoint) between good and evil. Finally, the futurist view it as yet to be fulfilled. Daniel 9 and Matthew 25 augment this end times story. If we didn’t have the book of Revelations then the Bible would not have an end. That being said forty percent of biblical prophecy is still unfulfilled.
John, in his later years, grew to be a contemplative. It can be observed starting early in his life with him always standing in the background with Jesus or Peter. John had no problem being second. He transformed from being an extrovert (known as the Son of Thunder for his temper and ego) to one who became more introspective and discerning. Never underestimate the passion of an introvert. The first-hand experiences he had of the transformation, witnessing the resurrection and the destruction of the temple, left an indelible mark that heightened his spiritual awareness.
As mentioned in an earlier chapter, the etymology of apocalypse is to unveil or uncover something. John writings unveil the promise about “Who is to come” (Rev. 1:4) and “Look, He is coming” (Rev. 1:7-8). I can almost visualize John as this loving, gentle, elderly man, walking the streets of Ephesus (once he was released) inviting people to his home to share Jesus ‘ love with everyone. Jesus’s resurrection is celebrated, and his future return is assured in the following key verse of Rev. 21:1-4.
“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
Unbelievably (pun intended) there are those who argue the Christian afterlife is unappealing so reject Christianity on the grounds of the boring monotony of sitting there doing nothing for all eternity. This outlook doesn’t even compare to the hype of afterlife Islam proclaims of the 70 virgins. Revelations 21-22 is about the newness of the earth. By the way, views on morality are one of the great differences between the Koran and the Bible, not to mention they don’t believe in Christ. In Romans 8:18-25, Jesus redeems not only humans but the entire creation. From that passage, I like to think of heaven as where believers will go in the afterlife to cultivate and develop this resurrected world as it should have been all along, taking care of it and each other. All our relationships to be in full harmony and wholeness. Rest, Worship, and Service (the latter being in the new creation) will be key acrivities in Heaven.
John’s recorded vision is captured in much symbolism borrowed from Hebrew history, depicting the circular fashion from the shared testaments. In the context of when the Revelation was written, the style of metaphors and similes are so spectacular, as are the many interpretations of when the end times are. His then audience at the time understood them all. John writes as like a First Testament scribe whose knowledge is so profound and in-depth that it only could be God inspired.
We do not have a date stamp for the future when the end times will come. Many think, (the dispensationalist) much can be detected by watching the state of Israel, the growth of wickedness (apostasy, 1Thes. 2:3) which is observable in the news, and to watch the nations of the world, for the building of a one world government and the de-evolution of politics and Man.
Revelation is about four separate interrelated visions. He writes to seven representative churches, with only one getting a positive report. Seven is a common number in this book with its visions called the seven-fold series of seven. Recall that the biblical meaning of number seven is a completion. Revelation’s theme includes a positive sense of the future, even with its admonishments.
Speaking of a contemplative stance of John, while leading that after-school mentoring program mentioned earlier in this book, I had an experience. I had upgraded my eyeglasses prescription and frame. One lively, young fellow in the program saw them on me and asked if I paid for them?
“Yes, these are prescription glasses. You pay for them because they are made just for you.” I explained.
He studied me further and said, “You a fool. You bought upside down glasses!”
He was right. My metal frames did not completely encircle the prescribed lens. Instead, the glasses rested on the bottom metal frame. Thinking I was in control of this discussion, I gently rebuked my young friend: “Jahlil, you don’t call adults fools.”
I turned away from him but could not restrain my body, particularly my shoulders moving, from my silent chuckling at his remark. Jahlil called me out and accused, “You laughin’!”
I turned around and jokingly said, “I will have you know these are a fashion statement.”
It was not for me to get the better of him, he thought to finish my sentence by responding: “For a white woman!”
Now and then, another youth (similar to all children who tell the crowd the emperor was not wearing any clothes) still mentions my glasses are upside down. I bought them at a boutique eyewear designer store justifying the price, as is my usual custom when I spend too much, by amortizing it out for each day of the year I wear them. I see (another pun unintended) eyewear as an accessory like carrying a purse daily except I use the latter more than I do my glasses. When I am just about to give up the frames for newer ones, someone jinxes it for me by complimenting them. I have a financial deal with myself; I wait another month and if no one comments about them being upside down or that they admire the design, then I will get a new frame for my glasses.
It is a goofy sight when looking at someone wearing glasses, most notability older adults, and their lenses are littered with dander and smudges; yet the wearer is oblivious to it (am guilty as written). We look at the particles of debris on the lens and wonder how they can see anything through that schmutz? Meanwhile, the lens on the inside of the glasses, that closest to the wearer’s face are clean. Now and then the eyeglasses are taken off and cleaned for obvious reasons, to get the more accurate perspective.
These are silly antidotes to make a point. As a natural course of aging, my vision now needs help to see things a little more closely, more in focus almost as if I don’t need to concentrate so much on the distance or future. Truth be told, if Jahlil is correct then indeed my glasses are upside down. Metaphorically my “progressive prescription” (both for nearsighted and farsightedness) would have the correction for reading and such on top and not the bottom, which is the typical way the prescription is produced. Following this hypothetical, that would mean at this time in my life I should look more closely at things in my predominate gaze with less emphasis on myopic focus for the distance (or the future). Of course, I still need both vision corrections. My eyesight may be weakening some but in turn, I have gained some insight and see a few things more clearly. It also applies to looking at life through a biblical lens. And probably while my future vision needs will change as I age, there is no telling what applications, meditations or extrapolations I will acquire as I go deeper into the future readings of the Bible. Henry Miller adds, “One’s destination is never a place but a new way of seeing things.”
John notes in his Gospel, chapter 21 verse 25, “Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them was written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.” T. S. Eliot wrote something that could be put on a Möbius strip (mentioned in the first chapter):
“We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.”
To end this novel ’s narrative circular motif, the book of Revelation ends where the Bible begins, traveling on that Möbius strip, back to Him: the triune God, the alpha and the omega, the beginning and the end, to a creation as God intended before the fall of Man. The Bible’s circular theme helps and legitimizes God’s enduring message (passages and scripture whose baseline are found in Jesus as the Messiah) while showing God’s message has ultimately been linear, a sequential narrative that leads to our ultimate salvation through faith.
Oh and the biblical apocalypse has a happy ending. God wins!