Towards Understanding Revelation

1/21/23 REVELATION 1:1a, PART 7

We start today with:

“The name by which this book would be known to its earliest readers among the Christians of Asia Minor would be ‘the Apocalypse,’ or ‘the Apocalypse of John.’ This is the name which it bears in the original Greek, not only in the ‘title,’ which is later than the book, but in the opening words, ‘The Revelation of Jesus Christ,’ where ‘Revelation ‘ is the rendering of the word ‘Apocalypse.’ Now, those among its first readers who had been Jews ere they became Christians would be quite familiar with a title such as this; it would not be the first book bearing this name with which they were acquainted, and they would be prepared for the character of its contents and the peculiar forms which they take. By the word itself, which exactly corresponds in its etymology to our word ‘Revelation,’ they would understand the removing of a veil, the veil which hides the future from the eyes of men. And the period between the close of the Old Testament Canon and the end of the first century after Christ had seen the production of many books which had this purpose and bore this name. The earliest specimen of an Apocalypse—the one which is indeed the prototype of them all—is found within the Old Testament itself in the Book of Daniel; but this had been followed by many others, the names of which are less familiar to us than they were to the Jews…

“On two points, however, our Apocalypse, the Book of Revelation, differs from the others with which we are acquainted. First, as we have already observed, it is not pseudonymous. It does not claim to have been written by a great prophet or religious leader of the past, but claims to come from the pen of a contemporary of those to whom it first came. It claims, further, to be written by one John, a disciple of Christ…And while no doubt has been ever raised as to the justice of the claim to be written by a contemporary, and by one whose name was John, the tradition that this was John the Apostle has also met with general acceptance…

“The second point of difference is that this book is written by one who is conscious of being a prophet. He followed the Apocalyptic method in making use of earlier material, but he was not as the other Apocalyptists…a mere adapter and interpreter of earlier Apocalyptic visions. He was one of the new order of prophets—Christian prophets—who made their appearance after Pentecost, and played a great part in the Church of the first century. He spake, being moved by the Spirit of Christ. But the form into which he threw his utterance was that of an Apocalypse, and we may be prepared to find his work marked by some of the characteristics common to the class.”

I am in agreement with this author until he starts talking about “the new order of prophets…who made their appearance after Pentecost, and played a great part in the Church of the first century.” First of all, the Revelation is the last and final book of the New Testament…there were no other prophets’ writings after it. Second of all, I really don’t remember any of the Early Church Fathers claiming to be prophets. Maybe I’m wrong, but naming a couple of examples would have been nice.

There is a lot more to this part of the quote. Following this last paragraph he does a summation of his own times…that immediately previous to his day, in the Victorian era, Christian men were looking to find and/or create heaven on earth through good works and charity. He describes that time as “one-sided,” and as concentrating “on one half of the complete ideal, in this case concentration on the Kingdom of God as coming by process only, and under the conditions of the life that now is, and to the ignoring of the other half of truth, the conception of the Kingdom as not of this world, as finding its consummation under conditions of spiritual existence, and after a crisis, a catastrophe, which for the individual is represented by death, and for humanity by the crash of judgment.” He goes on to say:

“In other words, through their enthusiasm for the teaching of the Sermon on the Mount men were lead to overlook the teaching of Matthew xxiv.; in their devotion to the ethical and practical they forgot the mystical and transcendental elements in the system of Jesus; they sat at the feet of the prophets, but the Apocalypse was a book of unimportant mysteries.” [from THE BOOK OF REVELATION, by C. Anderson Scott, 1906]

I think I agree with Mr. Scott here, but it will depend on where he goes from here. There are definitely people, even today, who think that it is up to us, through good works and correct governance (usually Socialism, which they incorrectly think that Jesus practiced), to create the Kingdom of God on earth. There are also people who think that the Kingdom of God is entirely spiritual and will never be in physical form here on the earth. The view provided in the Bible as I read it, is that until Christ returns, the Kingdom of God is spiritual, but that it will be on this earth, brought by Christ in His Second Coming…our only part until His coming being to spread the Word. I think that this is the point of view Mr. Scott is trying to put forth, particularly in his reference to Matthew 24, which details Jesus’ prophecies about the end times and the Second Coming. I have doubts because Mr. Scott does not clearly say that the Kingdom will be on earth, and that may be the most important part of this line of thinking.

The next author is a heavy-hitter from the early 20th century: E. W. Bullinger. He was an English theologian, whose formal training was an associate degree in theology, but contributed so much to the area of Biblical criticism that he was awarded a Doctorate of Divinity by the Archbishop of Canterbury (called a ‘Lambeth degree,’ it was established in 1533; there were originally 7, now 10, different degrees, and they are substantive rather than honorary; they can be awarded for work done, or as the result of an exam). Mr. Bullinger wrote four major works: a lexicon, a Bible companion, a book on the figures of speech used in the Bible, and one on the meaning of the numbers in Scripture. These are dense and well-written books, and they are still in print. He wrote 12 other books, also pretty dense, most of which are still available in one form or another. 

When I started this project a year ago, Bullinger’s Commentary on Revelation was one of the first books that I looked at. I usually start with the introduction or preface, and after a few paragraphs I skip around looking for topics appropriate for the blog. Bullinger’s introduction was so fascinating that I read the whole 65 pages pretty much straight through.

Here is a quote from the introduction regarding the title of Revelation:

“Our next evidence is the title given to the book by the Holy Spirit who inspired it. 

“It is not ‘the Revelation of St. John the Divine,’ which is man’s title for it. Indeed, among the later MSS., we find fifteen or sixteen various titles; but the Divine title given in the text, is ‘The Revelation of Jesus Christ.’

“The word apocalupsis. Hence the title of ‘Apocalypse’ so frequently given to the book. 

“It is from the verb apocalupto to unveil, from apo away from, and ~kalumma a veil. Hence Apocalypsis means a taking away of a veil (as when a statue is said to be unveiled), and thus bringing into view that which had been before hidden as by a veil. Unveiling is the equivalent English word. 

“It is used, of course, in two senses: viz., of a bringing to knowledge by the removing of the veil of ignorance; or of the visible appearance of one who had previously been unseen, as though hidden by a veil. 

“Our point is that, whenever this word is used of a visible person or thing, it always denotes the visible manifestation of that person; and it is the same in the case of all material or visible things. 

“This is not a matter of opinion, but it is a matter of fact, on which our readers can easily satisfy themselves by examining the passages. 

“The word occurs eighteen times; and in the following ten places is used of a person.”

He goes on to quote 10 difference Bible verses to make his case. He doesn’t just list the citations, he actually gives the line that the word appears in and then explains the use of the word in that citation. Here’s the first one as an example:

“Luke ii. 32 – ‘A light to lighten the Gentiles,’ literally ‘a light for a revelation to the Gentiles.’ What was this light? It was a person, even the Savior in Simeon’s arms, of whom he could say, ‘Mine eyes have seen Thy salvation.’” 

You can see the depth to which this man went in looking at the Bible. I doubt seriously that he read earlier commentaries, I’m pretty sure that he did most, if not all, his own thinking. On the down side to that, of course, is that some of his ideas are considered a bit odd (though some of his odd ideas have become mainstream since his death…for instance: that Christ was crucified on a Wednesday rather than the traditional Friday. Not everyone believes this, but it is now one of several main-stream explanations for Christ being in the ground 3 full days and nights, rather tan 2 nights and 1 day). Some of his other ideas, including his flat-earth beliefs, aren’t quite main-stream yet, and are unlikely to be, but, I still find his thinking interesting.

Here’s a quote from the body of his book:

[The Revelation of Jesus Christ]…is the Divine title of the book. All other titles, whether ancient or modern, are human, and are therefore not worth discussing, or even enumerating. The book is often called the Apocalypse, which is the transliteration of the Greek word rendered ‘Revelation.’  [Apokalupsis] means literally an unveiling, from apo away from, and kalupto, to veil: and may be understood either of the taking a veil from a person, and so causing him to become visible (as when a statue is said to be unveiled); or of taking a veil from the future, and disclosing the course of events which shall take place.  Probably both senses are true here. And, if the latter, then it shows us that what follows in this book is to be taken literally; for, when the Lord would not Reveal, but would hide the meaning of His words, He spoke in parables and used emblems (Matt. xiii. 10-16. Mark iv. 11, 12).” [from COMMENTARY ON REVELATION, by Ethelbert William Bullinger, 1909]

And the disciples came, and said unto him, Why speakest thou unto them in parables?  He answered and said unto them, Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given. (Matt. 13:10-11; KJV)

And he said unto them, Unto you it is given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God: but unto them that are without, all these things are done in parables: That seeing they may see, and not perceive; and hearing they may hear, and not understand; lest at any time they should be converted, and their sins should be forgiven them. (Mark 4:11-12; KJV) 

Usually, the commentator will list the two meanings of “apocalypse” in the book of Revelation as unveiling Christ and the message He brings from God. Mr. Bullinger is the first I’ve noticed to say that the veil is being removed from the future, and deducing from it that Revelation should be taken literally. And it’s very true that Jesus spoke in parables to hide what He was saying from those not meant to hear it. I find this line of thinking very interesting. Many would claim: ‘How can you say that ‘the sky rolling up like a scroll’ is literal?’ That is very black and white thinking. I think that every book in the Bible should be taken literally, until it either says it’s not literal, or leads you to believe it’s not literal. In this case, ‘the sky rolling up like a scroll’ is not likely to be literal, so I would be inclined to not take it to be so. Some things that John saw were very difficult for him to comprehend so he couldn’t use literal language to describe it. Think about a huge bomb going off, and the huge cloud of smoke that roils away from the bomb site…perhaps that could be what he saw, and having never seen explosions (and probably not even erupting volcanos there in Israel) he might describe it as the sky ‘rolling up like a scroll.’ I’m not saying that I believe that’s what he is describing, I’m just giving a possible example. We’ll most likely get deeper into this when we get to the relevant verses.

On to the next quote:

“The subject of this book is judgment; the style symbolism. 

“The subject of this book is judgment; the style symbolism. 

“God is revealed as the Almighty, the Eternal, the Judge of all the earth. Christ appears exercising His judicial functions, first in the house of God, and afterward among the nations. The Holy Ghost is seen, not as the ‘one Spirit,’ but in His perfect diversity of action in connection with the government of God. 

“Here, as in all Scripture, the person of Christ is the central figure, the glory of Christ the central object. But next to the person and glory of Christ, the kingdom and the Church occupy the most prominent place.”

The first paragraph is very general in it’s descriptions of the members of the Trinity and how They interact.  The second paragraph is absolutely correct in it’s description of Christ as “the central figure, the glory of Christ the central object”of Revelation. Also, the Kingdom could be said to be a topic of Revelation. But, again, the Church, aside from the seven letters, is decidedly not a subject of the book.

The author goes on:

“The world is, however, throughout regarded as a scene of judgment. Hence it is the judgments, and not the blessings, of the earthly kingdom that are here recorded. So, too, the Church on earth is looked upon, not in its privileges, but in its responsibilities, as the house of God, at which judgment must begin. On the other hand, the heavenly glories of the Church, and the heavenly side of the kingdom, about which the Old Testament is silent, are here blessedly unfolded…”

I can agree that the “Church on earth is looked upon, not in its privileges, but in its responsibilities, as the house of God” as far as the seven letters go. But I don’t recall any “heavenly glories of the Church” in Revelation. I will be interested to see what verses he points to in order to illustrate this.

Continuing with the quote:

“‘The Revelation of Jesus Christ.’  These words, however, do not mean His predicted revelation or manifestation to the world, but a revelation or prophetic communication which He receives from God and transmits to His servants. This shows the character in which the different persons, divine and human, are here presented. God is not looked at as the Father of believers, or even of Jesus Christ, but as sovereign Creator and Judge, communicating to Christ His own counsels. Jesus Christ, again, is not seen as ‘the only-begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father,’ and acquainted with all that is there hidden, but as the servant, who knows and does nothing of Himself, the dependent man to whom God’s purposes concerning the judgment of the earth and the coming kingdom are entrusted. He is thus seen in Mark’s gospel, where He says, ‘Of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father’ (Mark 13:32).” [from THE REVELATION OF JESUS CHRIST, by Thomas B. Baines, 1911]

I’m really having trouble with Mr. Baines’ concept of Revelation. First of all, he says: “These words, however, do not mean His predicted revelation or manifestation to the world.” Of course it does mean that…it describes, among other things, His Second Coming! He next goes into an explanation of Jesus being presented as “a servant” in Revelation. Jesus is the ‘suffering servant’ in the Gospels (as illustrated in Mark 13:32), but nothing could be further from the truth in Revelation. He appears first as the lamb who was sacrificed, but then He is the mighty warrior and Judge of mankind, not ‘a servant,’ or ‘dependent man.’  Again, it will be interesting to see how Mr. Baines’ ideas play out as we go forward.   

The next quote:  

TITLE. ‘Apocalypse’ or ‘Apocalypse of John’ was the title of the book in the second century…the distinctive title of St John is perhaps not earlier than the end of cent. iv…The noun [Apocalypse or Revelation] is rare in literary Greek, but Jerome’s dictum [that it’s never used in classic Greek] is too sweeping, for it is found in Plutarch…

“The book is a Divine revelation of which Jesus Christ was the recipient and the giver: cf. Gal. i.12…’by revelation from J. C…

For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came through the revelation of Jesus Christ. (Galatians 1:12; KJV)

“The title might have been ‘Apocalypse of Jesus,’ though the instinct of the Church has rightly substituted the name of the disciple through whom the message was delivered.” [from THE APOCALYPSE OF ST JOHN, THE GREEK TEXT WITH INTRODUCTION NOTES AND INDICES, by Henry Barclay Swete, 1911]

I really hate the “J. C.” thing. Who knew what a total lack of respect there was in 1911. The 1920’s I would have believed, but I thought that the 1910’s had more propriety.  I don’t think a commentator would dare do that even today. And as for his thoughts on the title, I hate to break it to Mr. Swete, but the title actually is The Revelation of Jesus Christ, and that the Church was totally incorrect in substituting the name of the disciple.

The last quote for the day:

The Book as it left the writer’s hands would bear no title. It was only when it came to be read as Scripture in the congregation that the need of a distinguishing title would be felt. The R.V. [Revised Version of the KJV] retains the traditional title, ‘The Revelation of S. John the Divine‘ but the oldest MSS. have the shorter form, ‘The Revelation of John.’”

This author seems to not know that Jewish Scripture does not usually have a title assigned to it; it often takes the first line of the verse: ‘The Revelation of Jesus Christ.’  Yes, the Church Fathers called it ‘The Revelation of John the Divine,’ or some variation of that title, but they didn’t know about Jewish Scripture either.

The author continues:

“John was called the Divine’ or ‘the Theologian,’ as being the reputed author of the Fourth Gospel… 

“Revelation or Apocalypse. If the word is to be understood in its technical sense, it is a mark of the later origin of these introductory verses. The claim of the writer himself is that his Book is prophetic…

The word ‘revelation’ or ‘apocalypse’ is not only used to designate a particular genre of literature. As other authors have shown, it was used in a number of verses of the New Testament to mean a variety of similar words (in English). I have not, anywhere so far, come across evidence, or even a hint, that the “introductory verses” were added “later,” and more than that, several authors have thought that the book had at least some of the characteristics of the genre ‘Apocalypse’.

Here’s the last bit of the quote:

“of Jesus Christ, i.e., given by Jesus Christ… So Paul in Gal. i. 12. In i Cor. i. 7, etc., the revelation of Jesus Christ means the parousia or second coming, in which Christ is not the Revealer but the Revealed.”  [from THE BOOK OF REVELATION, by J. T. Dean, 1915]

  For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ. (Galatians 1:12; KJV)

   So that you come short in no gift; eagerly waiting for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 1:7; KJV)                         

The ‘revelation’ does include the parousia, but it is included within a lot of other information that is ‘revealed,’ including the true character of the Christ in His Ascension. Mr. Dean says that “Christ is not the Revealer, but the Revealed”, yet he uses Galatians 1:12 as proof, which seems to me to say that Jesus Christ is the Revealer. He also uses 1 Corinthians 1:7, which seems to me to be interpretable as the Revealed, the Revealer, or both.

That’s enough for today. We’ll continue with the 20th century next time.

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