May 4, 2012

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Biblical reading: Concluding the Book of Revelation

John F. FinkThe biblical readings in the Office of Readings from this Friday through next week are from the final six chapters of the Book of Revelation.

The first four of those, Chapters 17-20, are sometimes referred to as “The Punishment of Babylon and the Destruction of Pagan Nations.”

Babylon is the code name for the Roman Empire because, in the Old Testament, the Babylonians desecrated the Temple and sent the Israelites into exile.

Here, Rome is portrayed as a great harlot with “Babylon the great, the mother of harlots and of the abominations of the earth” written on her forehead (Rv 17:5). She is “drunk on the blood of the holy ones and on the blood of the witnesses to Jesus” (Rv 17:6), referring to the martyrs under Emperor Domitian, who ruled from 81-96 A.D.

To make it even clearer, John writes that the great harlot rides on a beast with seven heads and seven horns.

“The seven heads represent seven hills upon which the woman sits” (Rv 17:9). Rome, of course, is famous for its seven hills.

The victory over Rome is described as if it has already happened, and in delicious detail. The vindictive language used is similar to Old Testament prophecies in Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel against Babylon, Tyre and Nineveh. All the voices in heaven rejoice as “the Word of God” (Rv 19:13) leads “the armies of heaven” (Rv 19:14) in the victory and God establishes his reign.

Chapter 20 describes “the thousand-year reign,” but those thousand years must not be taken literally any more than the other numbers in Revelation. During that time, God’s people will share in God’s glorious reign that is present to them by virtue of their baptismal victory over death and sin.

But this is not the end. Revelation foresees another era of demonic destruction when the devil gathers the pagan nations, “Gog and Magog” (Rv 20:8), using Ezekiel’s symbols (Ez 38:2). However, God will again prevail and the devil will be “thrown into the pool of fire and sulfur” (Rv 20:10).

Revelation then presents us with a description of the final judgment (Rv 20:11-15) when the dead will be raised and “judged according to their deeds” (Rv 20:13).

Chapters 21 and 22 reveal “the new creation,” God’s eternal kingdom in heaven, using the symbols of a new heaven and a new Earth. A “new Jerusalem,” the Church, is described as “the bride, the wife of the Lamb” (Rv 21:9). The images in the description of this new Jerusalem are again taken from the prophet Ezekiel.

In this new Jerusalem, the people will all be priests, indicating that our fundamental vocation is praise of God. There will be no divisions. “Night will be no more, nor will they need light from lamp or sun, for the Lord God shall give them light, and they shall reign forever and ever” (Rv 22:5).

The epilogue reminds us, though, that that time isn’t here yet. “The righteous must still do right, and the holy still be holy” (Rv 22:11).

The book ends with a prayer for the coming of Christ—“Come, Lord Jesus!” (Rv 22:20), a most fitting way to end the Bible. †

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