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Apocalypse Chapter 1
The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place; and he made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, who bore witness to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw. Blessed is he who reads aloud the words of the prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written therein; for the time is near. (RSV)
My friends, this book begins with a wonderful introductory outline where in which we can observe a number of essential elements. First, it is distinguished by its official tone that reminds one of the inscriptions of the books of the Old Testament. Its beginning can be compared with the grandeur of the beginning of the book of Isaiah, for instance: The vision of Isaiah, the son of Amoz which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah. (Isaiah 1:1) Second, the character of the book is made known by the name Revelation and the holy writer calls to our attention that what we have in front of us is a prophetic book! Third, the validity and authenticity of this book is declared because the source of this book is God Himself, Jesus Christ, whether He speaks personally or through an angel. Fourth, the purpose of the writing of this book is pointed out where he says to show unto His servants what must soon take place;
So, we have a record of the purpose of the writing of the book of the Revelation. Again, the purpose is to show unto the servants of God those things which must take place soon! A fifth observation is the identification of the writer, who is none other than His servant, St. John the Evangelist. This is the disciple that Jesus loved, the writer of the Gospel according to John and of the three catholic epistles. A sixth point, is that the content of the book is revealed, who bore witness to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw. Therefore, St. John bears record of the Word of God; so the book of the Revelation is the word of God, the testimony of Jesus Christ and all the things that St. John saw. He will not add or subtract. At the end of the book John himself will note, anyone who adds anything to the words of this book, God will add to him the plagues described in this book! And if anyone takes words away from this book of prophecy God will take away from him his share in the Tree of Life, meaning he will not enter the Kingdom of God. St. John is very careful to record only what he saw and heard and nothing more!
The central theme of this book is the Second Coming of Christ, which includes the war of the godless powers against the Church, their great defeat, handed to them by Christ, and the glorious reign of Christ unto the ages of ages. A seventh point, is that the purpose of this book is made clear by the blessing which it bestows on those that read, those that hear, and those that keep the word of God. Blessed is he who reads aloud the words of the prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written therein; Finally, what is also recorded here is that the time of the fulfillment of the content of this book is short, …for the time is near. The time is at hand! So (delete) All these things that we see in the introductory outline of this book, comprise a great deal of information in just a few lines! Now by the grace of God, we will proceed to interpret the Holy Script, word-by-word and phrase-by-phrase! It has so much beauty, there is so much beauty that even if they would tell us to hurry along, how can we possibly hurry?! When the Script itself stops you, it holds you down fast; it stops you dead in your tracks. It demands your attention!
The Revelation of Jesus Christ! — Revelation or Apocalypse in Greek. With these words, this great book of the New Testament begins. However, what is the meaning of the word “revelation?” Initially it means that this book is prophetic. It is the only prophetic book of the New Testament even though the other books of the New Testament have prophetic elements as well. Whether they have a historical character, like the Gospels, or a letter character like the Epistles of Sts. Paul, Peter, John, James and so on, and even though they are full of prophetic references, these are not especially prophetic. They are historical, advisory, and so on. The book of the Revelation is especially prophetic, the only one of its kind in the New Testament, even though it is full of spiritual counsels as well.
According to St. Andrew of Caesarea, “Revelation is the declaration of hidden mysteries which take place by the illumination of the nous, whether by divine dreams or visions, or in a state wakefulness like St. John.” St. John was not asleep. He was quite awake! He was not dreaming. Daniel, in the Old Testament however, saw these things in his dreams, while he was asleep. He saw those great images, great visions, but he was asleep. St. John here is quite awake, he will say, I was on the island of Patmos.... I was in the Spirit on the Lord's Day, (Kyriaki, on Sunday) I heard behind a loud voice… Then I turned around and I saw what I saw, someone like the Son of Man, the glorified Jesus! And He told me, I am the one walking among the lampstands… to the seven churches write these things that I am about to tell you. (Rev.1: 10-13) So, St. John is fully awake.
However, the word revelation also has a deeper meaning. Many times, we use this term, “revelation,” without managing to understand it fully! Generally speaking, revelation means that God is revealing Himself to man and this revelation is either direct or indirect, with its purpose being always to lead people to the knowledge of God. God is not unknown. He is known and unknown at the same time! He is known because God wants to be in communion with His creation. At the same time, He is unknown because He is the Unsearchable, the Untouchable, the Unfathomable, the Everlasting, the Timeless, the One above the sensual and created nature because the essence of God will always escape the knowledge of all created beings. This is why He is the Unknowable Known!
These are all expressions of what is called “apophatic theology;” this very statement for example: “I don’t know what God is, and the more I learn about Him, I become more certain that I don’t know God!” This is an apophatic stand towards the knowledge of God, however God loves to reveal Himself! He never keeps to Himself; He reveals Himself either directly or indirectly, and the revelation of God can be visualized in the natural divine revelation or the supernatural divine revelation. The natural divine revelation has three spheres through which God is revealed within His creation. First, He reveals Himself through creation itself; second, through man himself; and third through the human history and the history of the creation. God reveals Himself through creation according to the words of St. Paul Ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature, namely his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse; for although they knew God they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, (Romans 1:20) Therefore, within creation we recognize God’s qualities in the cataphatic way, not apophatic as we mentioned before. Here the knowledge is in a cataphatic way, through the very creation. We have such a vast universe; and this universe is so vast that the corners of this universe have never been reached by any telescope . Even our own imagination cannot travel that far. Science today talks about two hundred billion suns in our own galaxy, in our own Milky Way galaxy! They are talking about one hundred billion galaxies! Andromeda is the closest galaxy to ours, the closest galaxy, and it is 1.5 million light years away! The diameter of the universe is 18 billion light years! Just contemplating these things makes us dizzy! Equally, we are not capable of imagining a finite universe, with limits, nor can we grasp this; and at the same time we cannot perceive a universe without boundaries.
Now, if we have such a vast and mind-boggling universe, then what can we say about our God? Then God must be eternal, everlasting, infinite. God is almighty, all-wise! So where do we see these qualities? In God’s creation! So, God is revealed through His creation. This is why, my friends, there has never been a godless nation in human history, precisely because God revealed Himself through His creatures! The phenomenon of atheism of our times is the sickened state of today’s man who is in desperate need of a psychiatrist! Every atheist should be the subject of psychiatric evaluation! The state of the atheist is not natural. God is revealed to man for the simple reason that man is the image of God. The nous, the ruling nous, the mind, reveals and discovers God not only because man can sense God with his nous, but the very presence of man’s mind reveals the eternal mastermind, the eternal nous. Speaking for myself, to have a mind and to be able to think, which is not my doing obviously, some people must be really foolish to think that they created their own minds. They must be a real imbeciles . Since I have a mind, we can easily conclude that the Person who created me has a mind as well. This is well stated in one of the Psalms. David says, He who created the eyes, can He not see? He who has made the ear, can He not hear? Does He not understand? So, we can see now that through the created beings, especially through man, the presence and existence of God is manifested.
Finally, we see the presence of God throughout history. God enters man’s history. He orchestrates the events without affecting the human will. God always has the final word. I will use an example so you can understand this very thing. Let’s think of a boat, a commercial ferryboat, or a cruise liner; in it, we have passengers and personnel. Passengers and personnel move around, they go about their business; one passenger goes to the cabin; another decides to go for a dip in the pool; the third one goes to the main deck for coffee; the fourth goes to the dining room; the mechanics stay in the engine room; the captain in the captain’s chair. Everyone moves about independently the way they ought to and according to their own will! Each person has the personal freedom to move and carry on as they wish inside the boat. Their will is not restricted per se in any way, shape or form. However, the entire ship is moving towards a certain point. This is the relationship of history, people and God. While people in general are free to choose their actions on their trip, through history, the reality is that the entire cruise liner of history is directed towards a certain purpose, a certain destination!
So in this sense, God intervenes through history. He interferes to lead, direct, to punish, to destroy, to rescue or to reward. As we mentioned a number of times, the entire Old Testament is a theology of history and a revelation of in the history of the nation of Israel. Even the Incarnation of the Son of God takes place within history, and still covers the entire human prehistory. When God tells Eve that one of her descendents will come to save her, we see that the Incarnation is not placed at a specific time in history, let’s say two thousand years ago, but that the entrance of God in history through His Incarnation covers the entire history of mankind — from prehistoric times and up to the until the last day. These things are inconceivable, truly inconceivable; and the person who can abide and live by these becomes full of divine awe—before God before His love and His Providence.
Therefore, the revelation of God exists in the personal history of man and not only in universal history . Would you like me to tell you my life history? I would not tell you anything other than how God entered my own personal life! Would you like me to listen to your life history? I could listen to everyone’s life history, to the history of people that listen to or read this very homily. How did all these people find their way here, listening to or reading the word of God? In answer, of course, the people will relate the history of God in their lives? So God enters not only our national history, He also enters the history of every individual, of every human being, whether believer or unbeliever, pious or impious, young or old. There is no such thing as luck! Luck does not exist. God governs everything! However, He never restricts the freedom of the individual. The supernatural divine revelation fulfills and perfects the natural divine revelation. Mount Sinai, the prophets, and above all the Incarnation of the Son of God itself make up the supernatural divine revelation. The supernatural divine revelation can be internal or external. The external or outward is already established by the appearance of God in our history, in the Person of Jesus Christ. It is already established and there is nothing more for us to expect, nothing other than what was revealed in the Person of Jesus Christ.
When I say we have no more expectations, we do not mean that we do not expect the Second Coming. Yes we do! But in the Person of Jesus Christ, the same Person; in other words we do not have anything outside or beyond the Person of Jesus Christ. The prophets foretold and preached the word of God and Moses saw the glory of God, but history has now seen the Person of the Incarnate Son of God. It will see it again but He will be the same Person. Consequently, we will not have any new revelation than what we already have and this is what we mean when we say that the outward or exterior revelation is already established. What remains is the inward, supernatural revelation that continues in the life of the faithful— all the faithful— to help them to understand and accept the outward revelation. In other words, God reveals Himself inside me so I can call Jesus Lord! St. Paul expresses this in these words; No one can say Jesus is Lord without being in the Holy Spirit. This means that the Spirit of God illumines me to confess Jesus as Lord, or God. No one comes to the Son if not allured by the Father. The opposite is true, which shows the equality of the Holy Trinity. I will never be able to come near Jesus Christ if the Father does not draw me near. How does the Father draw me? Well, this is an invisible mystical matter. The Father allures me and the Spirit of God illumines me to confess Jesus Christ God. Those who do not confess Jesus Christ to be God do not have the Spirit of God! It is more obvious than obvious. He, who confesses Jesus Christ to be the incarnate Son of God, has the Spirit of God.
If we do not have the Spirit of God— St. Paul is very clear on this matter—without the Spirit of God we can do nothing—we are neither near, nor should we have hope of salvation! not in the area or hope of salvation. So, we have this inner divine revelation in order to accept the outward historical revelation, to accept the Incarnate Son of God, Jesus Christ! With this last form, of the inner revelation, my friends, we are called to study and understand the book of the Revelation. Let us not think that while we are leafing through the pages of this book, while analyzing this book, we will be able to understand anything in it in the absence of divine illumination! Let us not think this because understanding is not academic, or grammatical, or poetic, or philological! Understanding is spiritual. A philologist understands the Bible from the scope of literature, grammar, and composition. But these are nothing more than external elements and what we desperately need to understand is that this is the living word of God who will speak in our hearts! So, we are in desperate need of this internal revelation to understand the book of the Revelation.
St. John, and we need to pay attention to this, St. John accepted a direct inner revelation. St. John saw Christ face to face, directly. However, we must accept it through the messenger of Jesus Christ, John, through the Tradition of the Church and the two thousand years of church history, through the written word, through the book that we will read and if you will, through the hearing of the word of God, through the speaker. So, we must accept this revelation despite all these continuous coatings, through the messenger John, through two thousand years, through Tradition, the printed- word and the voice of the speaker. So, I must uncover and strip all these coatings to come to accept the revelation of God. These are coatings or coverings that are essential however, and if I disregard these then I am left with nothing! I will accept them and I will begin to uncover them. To give another example, let’s say I enter a room, a building. I walk through the hallway, I go to the door, I open it, I go through and I continue to walk until I reach my destination. So, here I must
move through these coverings until I personally find the final revelation, to find God Who will speak in my heart. Now how is this going to take place? The only way is through faith, through obedience and submission to the voice of the Church! All the things that we mentioned, St. John, the Tradition, the time of two thousand years, the print, the paper, the voice of the speaker with submission to the church and with humility my friends! Faith in essence is to conceive what is revealed through the spoken word, with the historical form penetrating the coverings that the historical form itself and the Word with His incarnation have placed over them. All these factors that we designated as coverings, we will call upon to reveal God to us.
This is why what is needed is a new revelation to help us understand the revelation of God and without this type of revelation the book of the Apocalypse remains sealed, a sealed book with seven seals! Why, you will ask? Because this is how God wants it! Doesn’t God have the right to do as He wishes? —To project something as He wants it? Is He not the Lord? This is how God wants and chooses things to be. He wants these coverings to be in place to restrict human haughtiness and arrogance! Man should not depend on himself and say, “I will find all this out by myself!” or “I am special enough and the Spirit of God talks to me directly! God speaks through me!” —As a lot of the heretics keep saying. No, you will find things out through the words of the speaker, through the printed word, through St. John the Evangelist who heard all this! This will bring you humility and will restrict your human haughtiness. Furthermore, man can only be saved through his fellow men! A man is saved through the Church and by the Church. Individual salvation does not exist. Let’s recognize this! Someone who would wish to be saved alone, without the help of the Church and the help of the brothers and sisters, let’s understand this, that particular someone will never be saved!
—The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him. — So this is revelation about Jesus Christ being enacted through Jesus Christ that God gives to Him, meaning Jesus Christ. Therefore, this revelation is about Jesus Christ and is presented by Jesus Christ. So, the source of this revelation, revelations rather, is God Himself! What is significant here is that the Script does not say “revelation of the Son of God” because the Son of God is of equal value with the Father. One Person of the Trinity cannot reveal things to another Person of the Holy Trinity; the Persons of the Trinity are one in essence. There are no secrets between the Persons of the Triune God. All three Persons are infinite, all knowing, and all wise—the three Persons of the Triune God! Jesus Christ refers to the human nature of Christ and the human nature of Christ is not infinite. However through the hypostatic or personal union with the Word of God, the human nature of Christ now can be considered omnipresent, present everywhere, not by its own merit but by the hypostatic union with God the Word. So, God gives this revelation to Jesus Christ Who will in turn give it to John, and St. John will pass it down to the Church. Now, how did Christ receive the revelation from God? And by God we mean the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit ? . We see it in 5: 6,7 in the very book of the Revelation that we are studying.
And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders, I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth; and he went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who was seated on the throne. So I saw in the midst of the throne and the four living creatures, these living creatures which are the cherubim, I saw a slain lamb but standing up! Slain but standing! This is the very thing that Christ will tell St. John in a direct revelation, “I am the one who died and behold I live again” Behold I live! The Son of God cannot become dead! The divine nature obviously cannot die so the human body died because of the crucifixion and the burial in the tomb. What a beautiful image, the slain and standing lamb! The ancient Church had this as the most precious symbol, the most beloved symbol of the original Church. The standing slain lamb! To those that deeply study the book of Revelation, the dearest part is this point of the standing slain lamb.
However, one must progress, very much, to come to love these things. Then he came and took something out of the right hand of him who sat on the throne. He took a book, a scroll. He does not specify who was sitting out of great respect. God was sitting, as we will see in our interpretation. So, this is how Jesus Christ received the revelation from God the Father, or God generally, the Triune God, the One Who sits on the throne. Now who is going to open this scroll, this book? The angel will say in the fifth chapter: “Who is worthy to open the scroll, and to loose its seals? No one was found! No one was worthy to open this book and John was weeping, he was crying. The angel says do not weep, someone was found; the slain lamb can open the book. He will open the book. In other words, He will reveal. This is why the book is the revelation of Jesus Christ; meaning that it reveals and manifests Christ and consequently the revelation takes place through Jesus Christ. This is the meaning of the words the revelation of Jesus Christ which God gave unto Him.
—He gave unto Him to show His servants. — Whose servants? The servants of Jesus Christ; to show what? To show those things which will define the contents of the book. It also expresses the purpose or why this book was given. What will it show? Things that must shortly take place. Those things that must take place quickly; which MUST take place! This “must” my friends has great theological dimension in Holy Scripture. Please allow me to use the rest of our remaining time to see this “must” of the Holy Scriptures. We run into this “must” very often. Let’s see some verses: In Daniel 2: 28,29: …but there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries and He has made known to King Nebuchadnezzar what must be in the last days. In Matthew 16:21 we read: From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. He must! Why? Look, when Christ resurrected He tells His disciples, Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory? (Luke 24:26)
This must my friends, is difficult, full of mysteries and inconceivable! We could simply ask, “Why was it necessary for these things to take place?” These things which are not at all pleasant, like the cross for example, or the persecution of the Church and the faithful until the Second Coming of Christ. The Church, my friends, needed to set out on a specialized type of journey through history which would be full of temptation and persecution from the world. However, we see that this “must”, this necessity of the Church, to undertake a journey full of tribulation and persecution comes to parallel the “must” of the journey of Christ. It could not happen any differently. Why? Because the Church is the very Body of Christ. So, when Christ says that, I must be killed, I must be crucified. then the Church must also say that, I must be killed, I must be crucified. Do not panic! Were you baptized? Were we baptized? Do we want to be Christians? Let’s finally understand this, Christ was crucified. We must also be crucified. Christ was persecuted. We will be persecuted as well! Most likely!
If they persecuted me they will also persecute you and here is the parallel verse. If they persecuted me, this is the must of Christ; they will also persecute you, this is the must of the Church. Christ says, I must go to Jerusalem to suffer many things, to be crucified. This is parallel to the verse of St. Paul, through many trials. In the Acts of the Apostles when they stoned him in Lystra and the disciples went to bury his body at night, they found him alive and well. He arose to tell the disciples that, through many tribulations we must enter the Kingdom of God. The disciples could have asked him, “Holy Apostle Paul, why must we? Couldn’t you have avoided the stoning?” No, it was a must! There is great mystery and depth here. Therefore, the must of Christ is to go up to Jerusalem. St. Paul’s must is that, through many tribulations, we will enter the Kingdom of God, and these things that must take place quickly in the book of the Revelation, are all parallel. Why is this? Because as far as this must of Christ, the people would oppose the Person of Christ, they would have opposed His mission. In order to have it come to pass, the work of salvation needed to be accomplished by any means, so Christ made it to the Cross—and the organ of the negation of salvation, the Cross— became the way of salvation. This is why the Lord said, I must, and the Church must for the same reason. The world would not accept Her presence and it would go to war against Her. As we are speaking my friends, do you have any idea what the powers of darkness are orchestrating at the expense of the Church? They are frothing at the mouth. They are frothing at the mouth and they will continue to do so! So, the Church’s lot is to be in a state of war. The Church had to stand, to be established and to await Christ’s Second Coming. Doesn’t St. Paul say that the mystery of the Holy Eucharist will be offered continually and will continue to be offered until Christ comes back? Until He returns! So, the reaction of the world is irreconcilable! I am sure you know this term, “irreconcilable differences.” Most of the time, this term is used loosely, when one or both partners in a marriage become bored. But in this case, yes! The world has irreconcilable differences with the Church. So this must of the Church is unavoidable! That is all it is! In other words, this inability to avoid certain confrontations in the relations between the Church and the world is expressed by the term must; these things that must be.
So this must does not express the necessity of these events, or confrontations. Many people may argue and say that there is a certain forcefulness here, a certain coercion which may bind a person’s freedom of choice. This must does not express the necessity of these events, but the necessity of salvation which all these different events stem from. Salvation is an irrevocable action of the love of God. Let’s understand this, irrevocable! God loves and wants to save the world! So what if the enemies of the Church are frothing at the mouth? What if the devil rants and raves? So what? God wants to save the world and this is how this must comes into play The devil is irrevocable in his actions and unrepentant. The Church and salvation are also irrevocable. Therefore, confrontation is unavoidable. This is where the must comes in! The end result, the events of the past, present and future must take place. But you may say, “We don’t exactly understand these things!”
My friends, we get it and we don’t get it! It is truly a mystery. Now why does God allow this unpleasant sort of solution? You will say, “Isn’t God capable of finding an easier method?” This is a great temptation for many Christians, “Why isn’t God able to intervene?” However, if He intervenes, my brother, you will tell Him that He is controlling you! He is binding your freedom! Why does God choose this seemingly worse solution? —It is because God loves and He wants to show His love. He offers His Son to be crucified! He could have used another method to save the world but He wants to save the world with love; and salvation moved by love is a deep mystery. It constitutes a mere fold of the love of God. St. Isaac the Syrian reveals this for us. When I first read it, I was not all that impressed. I am afraid you may feel this way initially as well. Now, I am totally satisfied with it. Let’s look at his 81 st homily:
“In the final analysis of all these things, Our God and Lord, due to His strong love for His creation,” …and this is the key: strong, great love, burning love. The Greek word is pothos. He gave His Son to a death on the cross. For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son to suffer death for it. (John 3:16) Not because God could not save us in a different way, but this was the way that God found to show and teach us His immense love. Our mind cannot grasp this!
He touched us, He drew near to us through the death of His Son to show and tell us how much He loves us! He loves us exceedingly and if He had something, even more precious than this, He would have given it to us. All this was accomplished so our human race could find its way back to Him, to draw near Him. And because of His great love, He did not wish to bind our freedom. Even though He could do this, He chose to let us come to Him in the spirit of love. All these things my friends express the mystery behind those things that must take place.
With this solution the love of God is made obvious. At the same time, the freedom of the individual is preserved! God is truly wonderful! These two elements, freedom and love espoused and working together in the life of the faithful individual will give birth to holiness. This is the holiness we need to enter the Kingdom of God. Those things that must take place quickly. Quickly! How quickly? St. Andrew of Caesarea says, “Some of these prophecies are at hand, ready to happen, and if you will, they began to happen as soon as the book was written!” And those things that will be at the end of history and are prophesied will not take long because one thousand years for God are as one day, as yesterday. However, in the recording of the Revelation my friends, those things that will take place start out as a chain that extends to the close of history. This “quickly” means a quick start, not necessarily a fulfillment of these revelations, but a constant and continued revelation and the total fulfillment of this revelation will be the end.
The beginning and the end of these events therefore are seen under the spectrum of one and the same image. What is significant is that this pre-Christian must, which we have seen in Daniel and other prophets, is indefinite time wise, whereas the Christian must is definite and in urgent time, for instance,
God tells Abraham, two thousand years before Christ, that he will be a father of a great nation and revealed reveals the Messiah to Abraham. When we read about these things in the Old Testament we get the feeling that these events will take place in the very, very distant future. There is no definite timeframe it’s indefinite, however timeframe; it is indefinite. However, these prophecies which showed no urgency — no urgency at all, materialized in two thousand years! Christ came two thousand years after Abraham! Now remember, the post-Christian must tells us that these things will take place quickly, which gives us the feeling of urgency. Professor Bratsiotis says, “It’s like we can hear and sense the galloping of the upcoming events, like the galloping of horses which can be heard when the riders approach a town.” Now It is understood that these events are on their way quickly and yet, two thousand years have passed by! Now we can pose the question, “Might the end of history be near or at least the beginning of the end be near?” My friends, perhaps.