familiar with the Old Testament prophets, especially Daniel but also Isaiah (chapter 27) and Ezekiel (chapters 37 and 38). 15
Thus in the first Apocalypse we find such visions as that of the Heavenly Court (ch. 4) in which takes place the enthronement of Jesus Christ as the slain Lamb (ch. 5). The Lamb’s breaking of the first six seals (ch. 6) leads on to the triumph of the faithful of old Israel (ch. 7). The breaking of the seventh seal leads on to the sounding of the first six trumpets (chapters 8 and 9) in which the Exodus-eve plagues are turned upon the faithless Jews. Before the seventh trumpet the seer is made to eat a scroll of prophecies (ch. 10) and, like Lot from inhospitable Sodom and Moses from persecuting Egypt, the Church, the new Israel, flees from the old Jerusalem (ch. 11). The second Apocalypse then begins with a vision of the Church as a ‘woman clothed with the Sun, with the moon under her feet and on her head a crown of twelve stars.’ She bears Christ into a pagan world ruled by a ‘great red dragon’ which seeks to devour them. (ch. 12) This Beast and its Prophet (ch. 13) array and war against the Lamb (ch. 14), but upon them is poured out the seven bowls of God’s wrath (chapters 15 and 16) and their city ‘the great harlot… Babylon’ is finally destroyed (chapters 17 and 18). The final chapters - on the struggle between the Church and the world till the end of the world - begin with the first heavenly triumph of the Lamb. This is followed by the two great battles of the end. After the first of these battles (ch. 19) ‘the dragon, that primeval serpent which is the devil and Satan’ is ‘chained up for a thousand years’ and ‘priests of God and Christ … reign with Him for a thousand years’. After this ‘thousand years’ he is then released and gathers all his forces for the final battle in which he is finally destroyed and after which comes the last Judgement (ch. 20). Finally comes the magnificent vision of the Church Triumphant in the Heavenly Jerusalem (chapters 21 and 22). 16
Apocalyptic literature flourished in the Jewish world in the last two centuries BC and the first two centuries AD. This was a period of great stress in which foreign occupation made it necessary to clothe prophetic messages of hope in frightening but heavily coded form. The Book of Daniel in its chapters 7 to 12 contained the first Jewish Apocalypse. (The last of the Old Testament prophets was Malachi which was written in about 450 B.C. Thereafter no prophet appeared in Israel until St. John the Baptist in late 27 AD.) Whereas the prophets had spoken with an eye on current events and the near future, Apocalypses were heavily coded in numbers and symbols and spoke about the end of the world. Apocalyptic messages are heavily coded in conventions which must be understood if they are to be read properly. In these codes numbers play a major part. Thus 2 symbolises witness, 3 divinity, 4 the universe, 7 and 12 (3+4 or 3×4) perfection (of the universe by the divine), and 6 (7-1, or 12÷2) imperfection, lack or evil. Thus the second century Muratorian Canon noted that in writing to the seven churches St. John was in fact writing to all churches, the whole Church. On reading then, for example, Apocalypse 5:6 we should not struggle to visualise a young sheep with seven eyes and seven horns. Using the code of lamb = Jesus Christ in His perfect innocence, 7 =
Published on Nov 29, 2011
Published on Nov 29, 2011
This survey of how the New Testament came to be written is also a chronicle of the first 40 years of the history of the Christian Church. It...