Ah, the book of Revelations. The capstone of the New Testament. The weirdest book in the whole Bible, and one of the weirdest books ever written. Revelations makes Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland seem pedestrian. The end of the world, the four horsemen, something about swords and seals and locusts…
I have had a life-long fascination with Revelations. I remember back in my high school days ordering a set of three booklets offered on a late-night commercial by the Church of Latter Day Saints. The books were laid out to cover three major topics from this book. I don’t remember what those were, but we’ll know by the end of this book.
One note before we get started: John claims many verses being said by Jesus Christ. I don’t buy it. By the time Revelations is released, Jesus is long dead. John’s experience here conjures up visions of Christ speaking, but these seem to me to be figments of John’s imagination. I will treat anything attributed to Christ in this book as such.
Revelation of John
John gets the administration out of the way right off the bat. John has been exiled in Patmos. Jesus has commanded this letter is for the 7 churches in Asia. The end times are nigh (don’t let Peter hear you say that!). Jesus has conquered death and rules over all other kings. He has made as a kingdom, and the kingdom awaits.
With the formalities, John moves on to the stranger, more esoteric and mystical parts of his story.
John is on the island one Sunday, minding his own business, when he hears a voice trumpet into his ear. John turns to see who is commanding him, and instead sees seven gold lampstands. In the middle of the lampstands was someone who looked like Jesus – he was wearing a robe and a golden belt. One thing I didn’t remember: Jesus had white hair, white as snow or wool. Jesus also had a two-edged sword sticking out of his mouth, and he held seven stars in his right hand.
I know what you’re thinking: what the hell is up with the sword? I told you this book is esoteric!
John does the wise thing and drops to his knees in fright. Jesus tells him to stop being afraid. Jesus lives forever, and he holds the keys to death and Hades.1 Jesus does try and make sense of some of the symbols for John: the lampstands are the seven churches, and the stars are messengers for the churches. That info is like a map legend; it’ll come in handy later, when we need it.
1Translation note: The KJV has this as “death and hell.” Every other translation I checked had “Death and Hades.” I don’t pretend to know what the difference is, I just find the demarkation between King James and everything else interesting.
I am surprised at how quickly this book lunges down the rabbit hole. This chapter recounts the m
essages Jesus wants to send to the lampstands. There’s a consistent structure to this chapter: first Jesus says something good about the church, then something negative, then gives a way to improve. It’s classic “Delivering Feedback” training material, with some very weird examples.
The people of Ephesus works hard for Jesus, does good deeds, and doesn’t tolerate evil. They have been able to root out false apostles. However, they have abandoned the love they once had to favor their discipline in following Christ’s words. The church needs to repent and get back to its original teachings.
On a side note: who are the Nicolaitans, and why does Christ (or John’s vision of Christ) hate them so?
The people of Smyrna live in poverty and suffer for their beliefs. Even worse, others in Smyrna who claim to be Jews say derogative things about Smyrnians. They fear what further sufferings they must endure, though. Rightfully so, for apparently they will suffer 10 days of intense suffering to test their faith. If they are faithful up to death, they will be rewarded.
Satan apparently rules Pergamum, ‘cuz that’s where his throne is set. The people of the church there hold fast to their belief and love of Christ. A prominent Christian leader – Antipas – is killed in front of the Christians to try and dissuade them from their faiths. The people of the church in Pergamum continue to stand by their belief in Jesus. They are not blameless, however. Some of the membership hold to the teachings of the deceiver Balaam, some are Nicolaitans. The church must repent, and presumably sever ties with these people.
The people of Thyatira are faithful, and they continue to get stronger. But they also allow Jezebel to stay among them. Jesus apparently gave Jezebel the chance to repent, but she did not. So he has thrown Jezebel into a sick bed. Anyone who has sex with her will suffer greatly. Christ will strike all of her children dead.
Again: holy crap! And since when does Jesus condone killing children?
Up next: John takes a spiritwalk
New installments of The New Testament In Review will be posted each Tuesday and Thursday. The new posts will always be on my blog, http://biffster.org. The entire series is accessible via http://biffster.org/ntir. If you are one of my Facebook friends, you can get an advance preview on my Facebook page. You can also follow me (@biffster) on Twitter to be alerted to new posts.