Towards Understanding Revelation


Good Morning! 

Today we’ll start with two short quotes that just give us an idea of what Hippolytus and Origen believed about who wrote the Apocalypse.

We met Hippolytus just briefly in the last post. He was the one who wrote HEADS AGAINST CAIUS. Hippolytus (170-235) is often credited as the first expositor of the Christian Church.

The quote we’ll see today from Hippolytus is from his book HIPPOLYTUS ON THE TWELVE APOSTLES:

“John, again, in Asia, was banished by Domitian the king to the isle of Patmos, in which also he wrote his Gospel and saw the apocalyptic vision; and in Trajan’s time he fell asleep at Ephesus, where his remains were sought for; but could not be found.”

So this tells us that Hippolytus believed that John was banished during the reign of Domitian, that he wrote Revelation, and that he returned from Patmos after banishment.

Next we have a quote from Origen (185-233), who was the most influential Christian scholar before Augustine. He is acknowledged as a genius. This quote is from his book ORIGEN DE PRINCIPII:

“…who, on reading the revelations made to John, would not be amazed at the unspeakable mysteries therein concealed, and which are evident [even] to him who does not comprehend what is written?”

I find this to be rather a profound statement. It is as true today as it was in the 3rd century. Who, indeed, can read Revelation without feeling shaken to the core, even if it isn’t very clear what exactly is happening or what the time frame is. I can’t blame people for wanting to believe that it describes things that have already happened.

Lastly we will hear from Epiphanius of Salamis. The first quote, from ~375 is a rather long rant about a group that didn’t accept any of John’s writings. Epiphanius was the Bishop of Salamis, Cyprus at the of the 4th century. This quote is from his book PANARION, which means Against Heresies:

Against the heresy which does not accept the gospel according to John or his apocalypse…This, then, is what the Alogi allege, for I place this eponym [name] upon them. For from now on so will they be called, and so, beloved, let us place this name upon them, that is, Alogi [means: without or against the Word], for it befits the heresy to be so called which casts away the books of John. Since, therefore, they do not receive the logos which has been preached by John, they will be called Alogi. These men of another [persuasion], therefore, altogether shrinking from the preaching of truth, deny the purity of the preaching and receive neither the gospel of John nor his Apocalypse. And if they at least received the gospel, and cast away the Apocalypse only, we would say, lest they be doing this in the interests of accuracy…that it was on account that things in the Apocalypse are so deeply and darkly spoken. But, since they do not receive in principle the books preached by the holy John, may it be clear to everyone that these men are also the same as those concerning whom the holy John in the catholic epistles said: ‘It is the last hour, and you heard that the antichrist is coming, and now behold, there are many antichrists’, and the rest. For these men make excuses, ashamed to speak against the holy John on account that they see that even he is among the number of the apostles, and beloved by the Lord, who worthily revealed the mysteries to him, and he reclined upon his breast. And they try to overturn these [books] in another way, for they say that they are not of John, but of Cerinthus, and they say that they are not worthy to be in the church…But they allege against the Apocalypse the following things, jeering: What use is the Apocalypse of John to me when it speaks to me concerning seven angels and seven trumpets? They do not know how necessary and useful such things were to the orthodoxy of the preaching…”

Here we have a Bishop of Cyprus declaring men heretics for not accepting the writings of the Apostle John, in which he includes Revelation. He admits that Revelation is “deeply and darkly spoken”, but he does not suggest that it was of a different authorship. He specifically denounces the idea that Cerinthus wrote it. 

We are post-Nicene at this time. The First Council of Nicaea was held in Nicaea, a town in Asia Minor (now Turkey), in 325 AD, where the first Christian doctrine was set. So we note a firmer air of certainty in Epiphanius’ writing than in earlier writings, where they spent more time trying to prove they were correct.

Here is one more quote from the same source. This is more of an introduction in which Epiphanius summarizes Revelation a bit:

“Let all of you, then, of necessity, open the eyes of your hearts and the ears of your soul, and receive the word which we are about to speak. For I shall unfold to you today a narration full of horror and fear, to wit, the account of the consummation, and in particular, of the seduction of the whole world by the enemy and devil; and after these things, the second coming of our Lord Jesus Christ…let us bring forward Isaiah as our first witness, inasmuch as he instructs us in the times of the consummation. What ,then, does he say? “Your country is desolate, your cities are burned with fire : your land, strangers devour it in your presence: the daughter of Zion shall be left as a cottage in a vineyard, and as a lodge in a garden of cucumbers, as a besieged city.”  You see, beloved, the prophet’s illumination, whereby he announced that time so many generations before. For it is not of the Jews that he spake this word of old, nor of the city of Zion, but of the church. For all the prophets have declared Sion to be the bride brought from the nations…”

This is an amazing summary for the 4th century. He clearly sees the overall theme of Revelation: “the seduction of the whole world by the enemy and devil; and after these things, the second coming of our Lord Jesus Christ”. The only thing he doesn’t say specifically is that the Lord Jesus Christ triumphs over all.

The only problem, of course, is the end of the quote where he declares that Isaiah was not talking about the Jews, but of the church. I think this became a majority opinion in the church for centuries. From the reading I’ve done so far, I think we won’t see this change until the early 20th century, but I could be wrong…we’ll see as we go. 

There are still people today who hold this point of view, but I’m guessing that they are not the majority. With the Jews back in Israel, I think it’s become clearer to many that God is not done with the Jews, making the idea that the Old Testament is really about the church seem rather absurd. We can take comfort from the Old Testament texts, but it would be difficult to take comfort from God breaking his promises to the Jews.

That’s it for today. I have a lot of reading to do for this next part, so it may be a few days before the next post. In the meantime, I’ll be praying for your patience

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