April 20, 2012

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Biblical readings: Visions in the Book of Revelation

John F. FinkThe biblical readings in the Office of Readings next week are again from the Book of Revelation. From this Friday through next Saturday, they cover Chapters 4-11.

After the letters to the seven Churches in Asia Minor that I wrote about last week, Chapter 4 tells us that John was “caught up in Spirit” or “in ecstasy” (Rv 4:2) into heaven, and the rest of Revelation consists of the visions of “what must take place in the time to come” (Rv 4:1).

Immediately, we get into the symbolism that’s a defining feature of Revelation. As you read this book, I encourage you to study the footnotes or you are going to get lost. The symbolism is present in numbers, colors, metals and garments.

For numbers, as an example, keep in mind that seven means universal or totality of perfection except for the seven Churches for whom the book was written. Four sometimes signifies the world, six means imperfection, 12 refers to either the Apostles or Israel’s tribes and 1,000 is used for immensity.

In Chapter 5, we are told about a scroll with seven seals and “a Lamb that had been slain,” who alone was worthy to break the seals. This obviously is Jesus, who is also called the Lamb of God in St. John’s Gospel (Jn 1:29), perhaps written after Revelation. The Lamb is described as having seven horns and seven eyes to suggest Christ’s universal (seven) power (horns) and knowledge (eyes).

All those in heaven fall down, including the “four living creatures and the twenty-four elders” (Rv 5:5:8). The “living creatures” had been described in Chapter 4 as a lion, calf or ox, human being and eagle, to symbolize the noblest, strongest, wisest and swiftest. Later, the Church took them as symbols of the four evangelists. The 24 elders are the Apostles and the 12 tribes of Israel.

In Chapter 6, the Lamb breaks open the scroll’s first six seals. As he breaks the first four, we get the symbolism of four horses—white, red, black and pale green, representing a conquering power, bloody war, famine and death, respectively.

With the breaking of the fifth seal, John sees the Christians who had been martyred by the Romans, calling for God’s judgment. That judgment would come with the breaking of the sixth seal, and cosmic upheavals are described.

Before the breaking of the seventh seal, Chapter 7 tells of John’s vision of the huge number of those who are saved from every nation, race, people and tongue.

The Lamb breaks the seventh seal in Chapter 8, the signal for seven symbolic disasters, each announced by a trumpet blast. The disasters are modeled on the plagues in Egypt before Moses led the Israelites out.

There is an interlude between the blowing of the sixth and seventh trumpets in Chapters 10 and 11. The first is a vision of an angel who gives John a small scroll and tells him to eat it. The scroll is sweet to the taste because it predicted the final victory of God’s people, but it turned his stomach sour because it also announced suffering.

We will continue this explanation next week. †

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