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Book of Revelation

The Book of Rev­e­la­tion, also called the Apoc­a­lypse which means that which has been dis­closed, and also called the Rev­e­la­tion to St John, is tra­di­tion­al­ly con­sid­ered to be the work of the Lord’s apos­tle who lat­er wrote the fourth gospel and the let­ters. It is dat­ed in the mid­dle of the last half of the first cen­tu­ry.

St John received his vision “on the island called Pat­mos.” He was “in the Spir­it on the Lord’s day” when he received God’s com­mand to write the let­ters “to the sev­en church­es of Asia” (1:4–10). Each of the sev­en mes­sages con­tains the words of Christ for the spe­cif­ic church (2–4).

Fol­low­ing the sev­en let­ters in the book of Rev­e­la­tion, the apos­tle records his vision of God on His throne in heav­en being hymned unceas­ing­ly by angels, the “liv­ing crea­tures”, and the “twen­ty four elders”: “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, Who was and is and is to come” (4).

There then fol­lows the prophe­cies of the sev­en seals and the sev­en angels (5–11), and the visions of the “women clothed with the sun” and Michael and his angels engaged in bat­tle with the “drag­on” (12). Next come the images of the “beast ris­ing from the sea” and the “oth­er beast ris­ing from the earth” (13). Then comes the vision of the Lamb and those who are saved by God, with the angels com­ing to earth from heav­en bear­ing their “bowls of wrath” (14–16). The image of the “great har­lot” fol­lows (17), with the final prophe­cy about the down­fall of“great Baby­lon” (18). The end of the book of Rev­e­la­tion describes the won­der­ful vision of sal­va­tion, with the mul­ti­tude of those “blessed … who are invit­ed to the mar­riage sup­per of the Lamb” in the midst of the great celes­tial assem­bly of angels who sing glo­ry to God and to Jesus, His word and His Lamb, the Alpha and the Omega, the King of kings and the Lord of lords. It is the image of the King­dom of God and of Christ, the Heav­en­ly Jerusalem fore­told by the prophets of old in which the right­eous shall reign for­ev­er with God (19–22).

Hal­lelu­jah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and exalt and give Him the glo­ry, for the mar­riage of the Lamb has come, and the Bride (the Church) has made her­self ready. … (19:6–7).

Then I saw a new heav­en and a new earth; for the first heav­en and the first earth had passed away. … And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, com­ing down from heav­en from God, pre­pared as a bride adorned for her hus­band; and I heard a great voice from the throne say­ing, “Behold, the dwelling of God is with men. He will dwell with them and they shall be His Peo­ple, and God Him­self will be with them; He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, nei­ther shall there be mourn­ing nor cry­ing nor pain any­more, for the for­mer things have passed away” (21:1–4).

And He Who sat upon the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new” (21:5).

It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Begin­ning and the End. To the thirsty I will give water with­out price from the foun­tain of life. He who con­quers shall have this inher­i­tance, and I will be his God and he shall be My son (21:6–7).

There was a cer­tain hes­i­ta­tion on the part of the ear­ly Church to include the book of Rev­e­la­tion in the canon­i­cal scrip­tures of the New Tes­ta­ment. The rea­son for this was obvi­ous­ly the great dif­fi­cul­ty of inter­pret­ing the apoc­a­lyp­tic sym­bols of the book. Nev­er­the­less, since the doc­u­ment car­ried the name of the apos­tle John, and since it was inspired by the Holy Spir­it for the instruc­tion and edi­fi­ca­tion of the Church, it came to be the last book list­ed in the Bible, although it is nev­er read litur­gi­cal­ly in the Ortho­dox Church.

It is indeed dif­fi­cult to inter­pret the book of Rev­e­la­tion, espe­cial­ly if one is unfa­mil­iar with the images and sym­bols of the apoc­a­lyp­tic writ­ings of the Bible, that is the Old Tes­ta­ment, and of the Judeo-Chris­t­ian Tra­di­tion. There exists, how­ev­er, a tra­di­tion­al approach to the inter­pre­ta­tion of the book with­in the Church which offers insight into its mean­ing for the faith­ful.

The wrong method of inter­pret­ing the book of Rev­e­la­tion is to give some sort of exclu­sive mean­ing to its many visions, equat­ing them with spe­cif­ic, con­crete his­tor­i­cal events and per­sons, and to fail to under­stand the sym­bol­i­cal sig­nif­i­cance of the many images which are used by the author fol­low­ing bib­li­cal and tra­di­tion­al sources.

First of all, the let­ters to the sev­en church­es have both a his­tor­i­cal and a uni­ver­sal mean­ing. The mes­sages are clear and remain rel­e­vant to sit­u­a­tions which have always exist­ed in the Church and which exist today. For exam­ple, many old­er church­es in all ages of his­to­ry can he iden­ti­fied with the Church of Eph­esus. Those under per­se­cu­tion can be com­pared with the Church in Smyr­na. And not a few—perhaps some in Amer­i­ca right now—can be judged with the Church in Laodicea. The sev­en let­ters remain for­ev­er as “pro­to­typ­i­cal” of church­es that will exist until Christ’s king­dom comes.

The visions and prophe­cies of the main body of the book of Rev­e­la­tion present great dif­fi­cul­ties, but most­ly to those inter­preters who would attempt to apply them to one or anoth­er his­tor­i­cal event or per­son. If the gen­er­al vision and prophe­cy of the book is seen as reveal­ing the cor­re­la­tion between events “in heav­en” and events “on earth,” between God and man, between the pow­ers of good­ness and the pow­ers of evil, then, though many dif­fi­cul­ties obvi­ous­ly remain, some will also imme­di­ate­ly dis­ap­pear.

In the book of Rev­e­la­tion, one comes to under­stand that the King­dom of God is always over all and before all. One sees as well that the bat­tle between the right­eous and the evil is per­pet­u­al­ly being waged. There are always the faith­ful who belong to the Lamb, being crowned and robed by Him for their vic­to­ries. There are always the “beasts” and the “drag­ons” which need to be defeat­ed. The “great har­lot” and the “great Baby­lon” are for­ev­er to be destroyed. The “heav­en­ly Jerusalem” is per­pet­u­al­ly com­ing, and one day it will come and the final vic­to­ry will be com­plete.

One notices as well that there is a uni­ver­sal­i­ty and final­i­ty about the sym­bols and images of the book of Rev­e­la­tion, a mean­ing to be applied to them which has already been revealed in the scrip­tures of the Old Tes­ta­ment. Thus, for exam­ple, the image of Baby­lon stands for every soci­ety which fights against God, every body of per­sons unit­ed in wicked­ness and flesh­li­ness. The image of har­lotry uni­ver­sal­ly applies as well to all who are cor­rupt­ed by their pas­sions and lusts, unfaith­ful to God Who has made them and loves them. The sym­bol­ic numerol­o­gy also remains con­stant, with the num­ber 666 (13:18), for exam­ple, sym­bol­iz­ing total deprav­i­ty, unlike 7 which is the sym­bol of ful­ness; and the num­ber 144,000 (14:3) being the sym­bol of total com­ple­tion and the full num­ber of the saved, the result of the mul­ti­pli­ca­tion of 12 times 12—the num­ber of the tribes of Israel and the apos­tles of Christ. Thus, through the images of the book of Rev­e­la­tion, a depth of pen­e­tra­tion into uni­ver­sal spir­i­tu­al real­i­ties is dis­closed which is greater than any par­tic­u­lar earth­ly real­i­ty. The insight into the mean­ing of the book depends on the inspi­ra­tion of God and the puri­ty of heart of those who have eyes to see and ears to hear and minds will­ing and able to under­stand.

In the Ortho­dox Church, the book of Rev­e­la­tion has great litur­gi­cal sig­nif­i­cance. The wor­ship of the Church has tra­di­tion­al­ly, quite con­scious­ly, been pat­terned after the divine and eter­nal real­i­ties revealed in this book. The prayer of the Church and its mys­ti­cal cel­e­bra­tion are one with the prayer and cel­e­bra­tion of the king­dom of heav­en. Thus, in Church, with the angels and saints, through Christ the Word and the Lamb, inspired by the Holy Spir­it, the faith­ful believ­ers of the assem­bly of the saved offer per­pet­u­al ado­ra­tion to God the. Father Almighty.

The book of Rev­e­la­tion, although nev­er read in the Ortho­dox Church, bears wit­ness to the divine real­i­ty which is the Church’s own very life.

The Spir­it and the Bride [the Church] say, “Come.” And let him who hears say, “Come.” And let him who is thirsty come, let him who desires take the water of life with­out price.

Sure­ly I am com­ing soon,” (says Jesus, the Lord.)

Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! (22:17, 20)