Towards Understanding Revelation


We’re continuing with Germany during the Great Reform.

Emperor Frederick Barbarossa had his own run-in with papal authority, but it came after the death of Otto of Freising. Being his uncle, Otto had been a biographer for Frederick I in the early part of his reign: Frederick was crowned Emperor in 1152, and Otto died in 1158 at the age of 48.  

In terms of apocalyptic thought, the mantle moves to Gerhoh of Reichersberg. Gerhoh was one of the leading theologians of his time, but was not well loved. It seems he was anti-imperial, and was certainly banned from the court of Frederick I. But he was also in favor of reform based on Gregory VII’s ideas, which fell out of favor as time went on, making him persona non grata with the popes following Eugene III. He was even accused of heresy at one point. [Info from Wikipedia and Oxford Reference.]

Here’s what Bernard McGinn has to say about him in VISIONS OF THE END:

The writer for whom the struggle between the regnum [the royal element] and sacerdotium[the priestly element] played the most important role as a key to the course of history was the bellicose Bavarian canon, Gerhoh of Reichersberg (1093-1169). Unlike…Otto, whose writings he knew, Gerhoh survived to witness the second major clash between the papacy and the empire, the long schism of 1159-1177 between Frederick Barbarossa and [Pope] Alexander III. The reformer’s reflections upon these events strengthened his deep sense of opposition to the empire and convinced him that the career of the Antichrist named Henry IV had begun the final catastrophic age of history. Gerhoh’s first major apocalyptic work written during the schism was entitled ON THE INVESTIGATION OF THE ANTICHRIST. The treatise is notable for its highly spiritualistic view of the Antichrist as the collectivity of all who have opposed the Church since the time of Cain.  R. Manselli has suggested that by his break with the fantastic and legendary accounts of the Final Enemy, Gerhoh opened up the way for a more immediate application of antichrist language to current events.”

I find it hard to think of the idea that Cain and other people of the Old Testament were opposing “the Church” as anything except “fantastic and legendary.” More than that, second century Church Fathers had no trouble applying antichrist language to their current events, and, as we shall see, Gerhoh seems to have agreed with them.

Here’s the first excerpt from THE INVESTIGATION OF THE ANTICHRIST:

Many of the faithful and prudent believed that what was thus prophesied in the Revelation of John was fulfilled or began to be fulfilled from that time. ‘When the thousand years have been completed, Satan will be loosed from his prison and will go forth and lead astray many nations that are at the four corners of the world, Gog and Magog’ (Rev. 20:7).”

Gerhoh seems to be promoting the idea that one of the Roman Emperors was, indeed, the antichrist; and that the first millennium after Christ was The Millennium. Perhaps he also saw The Church as Christ’s regent ruling on earth. And Satan was safely locked away for 1000 years, only to be let out at 1000 A.D.  These two ideas don’t make a lot of sense together: the Antichrist appears in Roman times, but Satan is locked up while Antichrist is appearing. Let’s follow this further:

“Until that time, as we have said before, the same Satan had been bound through the Angel of Great Counsel in the abyss of the hearts of the very evil and by the huge chain of his deep malice.”

So, it wasn’t really a chain and an abyss. Satan was bound by his own “deep malice”, in the hearts of the “very evil.” Does that mean he could still affect the people of the earth? Was it a long chain, as J. Vernon McGee reports that his post-millennial professor said it was?

“He was enclosed and ‘sealed over for a thousand years so that he might not seduce the nations any more until the thousand years be finished.’ “

The answer to the question about affecting the earth seems to be ‘no,’ though I’m not clear why. Being “sealed” in mortals, no matter how evil, doesn’t seem very secure.

“For ‘after this,’ as the same passage says, ‘it is necessary that he be released for a brief time’ (Rev. 20:1-3). At that very time at which the devil was freed as it were through King Henry (of whom we have spoke and will speak again), a thousand years had already passed from the Passion, when the devil was put in prison and sealed over. The devil, when truly free, began to rule as a tyrant. From that time began the split in the papacy and the conflict between sacerdotium and regnum which surely contributed to the loosing of Satan.”

The convolution moves into high gear. First of all, a good question from Revelation is: why does Satan need to be released? If a prophesy has been fulfilled, then we should have a realization and understanding of what was said about it: so he should be able to tell us why that was necessary; yet he doesn’t.

The second question is: how did King Henry free Satan “as it were”? There is an implication here that Henry was the Antichrist, yet that can’t be right because he’s already implied that one of the Roman Emperors was the Antichrist. Unless, the Roman emperor was only the beginning of fulfillment, followed by more fulfillment with Henry (and all the other people labeled ‘antichrist’ by the Church between the Roman emperor and King Henry, while Satan was bound). In modern times we speak of antichrist as an archetype. We label men who were/are responsible for the deaths of many people, like Napoleon and Hitler, as a ‘type’ of antichrist, reserving the title Antichrist for the final emperor. But I’m not sure that King Henry actually meets even the definition of ‘type’ of antichrist. He was against the Church due to the Church’s usurpation of power; he instigated some fighting, but it doesn’t sound like a lot of people were killed: mostly the Church’s men withdrew and/or surrendered before King Henry’s men. It certainly looks like the Church, in her worldly power, was deciding who would be excommunicated and who would be labeled ‘antichrist’ based on who she disagreed with and who stepped on her toes.

“For as long as the priesthood remained strong, shining and burning through unity and devotion to religion, and as long as kingship with the cooperation of the priesthood  was strong in good fear of evil works and not fear of good ones, Satan and evil men, his ministers, were bound in their lairs by these luminaries, like beasts, far from the presence of God. From the time when these two luminaries were moved against each other and failed in their devotion to religion, Satan was loosed.”

So, it’s not God who keeps Satan bound, and the restrainer is the good will and cooperation between the clergy and the king. Really, it’s apparently all just a metaphor for how men are behaving, or not. 

The last line is a bit telling. Gerhoh is saying that the disputes of the “two luminaries,” or  that they“failed in their devotion to religion,” are what led to Satan being loosed, i.e. he was loosed after they moved against each other. But he can’t quite go there with his hero Gregory, so he says they “were moved against each other;” I’d like to know: who moved them?

“From that time one pope stood against another, the one attempting to loose what the other would bind and vice versa. From that time the priesthood was made like a smoking cloth through the evil of simony and the wickedness of incontinence so that in many it was evident as a fear not of evil works but of good ones. The rare bishop who wished to correct his clergy did not dare to do so through fear of the Roman curia, with whom even the wicked could find judgment for a price.” 

This provides the early echos of the Reformation of Martin Luther, and meanwhile the Catholic Church went even further down this road of worldly power and wealth.

“Then ‘it was night’ in which ‘all the beasts of the forest wandered about, the whelps of the lions roaring to lay waste and to seek their meat from God’ (Ps. 103:20-21). Under a disguise of piety they hid their purpose, so that what they did in an evil and bestial manner might seem to be done at God’s inspiration, that is, ‘to seek their meat from God.’

Let’s start by looking at Psalm 103:20-21:

Bless the Lord, ye his angels, that excel in strength, that do his commandments, hearkening unto the voice of his word. Bless ye the Lord, all ye his hosts; ye ministers of his, that do his pleasure. (Psalm 103: 20-21; KJV)

This is obviously not the Psalm that was quoted. Here is the one that was:

Thou makes darkness, and it is night: wherein all the beasts of the forest do creep forth. The young lions roar after their prey, and seek their meat from God. (Psalm 104:20-21; KJV)

I double and triple-checked myself, and it was not my typo. I’m not sure whose it was.

Now let’s look at the whole thought in Psalm 104:

16 The trees of the Lord are full of sap; the cedars of Lebanon, which he hath planted; 17 Where the birds make their nests: as for the stork, the fir trees are her house. 18 The high hills are a refuge for the wild goats; and the rocks for the conies. 19 He appointed the moon for seasons: the sun knoweth his going down. 20 Thou makes darkness, and it is night: wherein all the beasts of the forest do creep forth. 21 The young lions roar after their prey, and seek their meat from God. 22 The sun ariseth, they gather themselves together, and lay them down in their dens. 23 Man goeth forth unto his work and to his labour until the evening. 24 O Lord, how manifold are thy works! In wisdom hast thou made them all: the earth is full of thy riches. (Psalm 104: 16-24; KJV)

Psalm 104 is a song of praise to God. To take an isolated phrase from this beautiful, poetic verse and turn it into a metaphor for evil just makes me feel ill.  There’s a saying that you can twist statistics to prove anything you want…well, the same is true of the Bible. Unless it’s read in context, looking at the original meanings, and with the help of the Spirit, it can be twisted to mean whatever a wayward, or even corrupt, mind wants it to mean. I just can’t accept this kind of use in a serious Christian discussion.

That’s all for today, and if the end is too much of a downer, then please reread the quote from Psalm 104 to be uplifted! And I’ll be praying to lift you up in these difficult times. k

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