We know this process of separation from the Gospels, especially from Matthew. In the chapter following the one describing the birth-pangs of a beginning apocalypse, in a fairy-tale like way Matthew tells the story of what happens when the Son of man comes in his glory (25:31ff). Having gathered the nations before him, he will separate them one from another in the way a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, using an amazing way of separating them (which we will not consider here further). The “sheep” at his right hand will go into eternal life, the “goats” at his left hand into eternal punishment.
Two preceding parables in this same chapter give other glimpses of the process of separation. Here, as well as in Christ’s words to his disciples, the need to “watch”, to “be awake” is stressed (Mt 24, Mk 13, Lk 12). In the second of those parables we encounter a realm of “outer darkness; there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (25:30) into which those who have been “separated-out” will be cast. It is the realm where those will end up who are without enduring faith (8:12), who have not taken the trouble to put on the wedding garments prepared for them when entering the wedding hall (22:13), who did not make the most of their talents (25:30). All this gives but a first inkling of the process of separation which is described in the Apocalypse to John. This final separation has been preceded by acts of acceptance and rejection, by identification and denial. These followed when the initial call of John the Baptist “to change heart and mind” (to “repent”, in older religious parlance) had been taken up by Jesus. When he began to work among human beings he also spoke the warning which had followed, that the kingdom of the heavens, the kingdom of God “is at hand”.5
The process of separation has begun with Christ’s death and resurrection on earth, and has been carried by Him into heaven from Ascension onwards. Now that both earth and heaven are beginning to be transformed in this way, between heaven and earth “in-between” realms grow which on the one hand become more and more “of Christ”, on the other more “of the Fall”, once the powers of adversary have become openly engaged. Realms of growing light and of growing darkness, preliminary stages, as it were of the apocalyptic city of life and of the city of doom take shape. The transformation of the world into the apocalyptic city of life goes hand in hand with the transformation of Christ himself.
In the Revelation to John, this transformation of Christ and his realm is shown in seven stages.6
In his first manifestation in John’s opening vision, as we have already seen, Christ appears on earth like “a son of man” (1:13), human in such a way that he can be a mirror for everyone, even if at the same time he is “the Son of God”, as he reveals himself at the beginning of the fourth letter (2:18). The First and the Last, with power over death and resurrection, he shows himself as the center of the congregations-in-progress on earth, showing their angels how their members can become more like himself – in order that they may come to recognize in him “what they shall be” (as John put it in his first letter).