Apocalypse (5) Human Evolution in the Apocalypse of John1

“We shall now survey the Apocalypse in an endeavor to see what it has to say concerning mankind’s Christian progress” (writes Rudolf Frieling). “This continually changes the scene of its realization between earth and heaven. Christianity – on the one side embodied on earth, on the other existing in heaven – increasingly develops into an important factor working in the eschatological drama. At the end, upper and lower world penetrate each other. A ‘new earth’, made new by what has come from above, joins a ‘new heaven’, which itself has been rejuvenated by what happened through Christ on earth. Out of this merging of the two there comes the New Jerusalem, which is both ‘heaven’ and ‘earth’. The Christ-Mystery, unifying heaven and earth, has become powerful within a Christendom now ripe for it. John’s Apocalypse shows in the sequence of its visions this process of ripening.” (p 90-91) Frieling adds that “from that survey we shall return once more to reincarnation” – the subject of the book of which “Human Evolution in the Apocalypse of John” is the last chapter.

Here, giving a short impression of this chapter, I will also [in square brackets] refer to the “Structure” of the Revelation to John” by Christoph Rau, which has been added to the second contribution in this series. This overview, far from able to recreate the depth and profound scholarship of Rudolf Frieling in his essay, is here made in the hope that you will, somehow, later, acquire his original text.

The image of the throne in the last of the Seven Letters (3:21) opens the great vision of Chapters 4 and 5, in the midst of which stands the divine throne. [First Throne Vision] John is drawn into the upper world by the voice speaking to him: “Come up hither” (4:1). Here, the Lamb of sacrifice brings his own deed before the Father’s throne. This is echoed in the “New Song” which is added to the “Sanctus” of the four cherubim “living creatures” of the innermost circle, in which the twenty-four elders join. This contains an ingredient coming from human beings on earth, in whose midst the sacrifice of the Lamb took place: “the prayers of the saints” (5:8); that is, of Christians living on earth. Even when these can’t join the song directly, impulses from their souls are received in the heavens, becoming visible as the smoke of incense, rising up from the golden bowls of the elders together with the New Song.

After the opening of the seals has begun, Christians who have gone through martyrdom on earth now themselves appear in the upper world, seen under the heavenly altar (6:9). “Souls” as they are (“psychai” in Greek), in their disembodied, conscious state after death they are not satisfied with their new form of existence, having not yet fully grasped the redeeming consequences of Christ’s death. The “not yet” implicit in the answer they receive, “to rest a little longer”, shows that there will be a further development of their existence after death as a result of their martyrdom. They “were each given a white robe” (6:11), that they may become more active and responsible citizens of the higher world.

When in the pause between the sixth and the seventh seal the 144,000 are sealed, we are again looking at the earthly scene. The figure, “heard” in the spirit (7:4) is of course not an “arithmetical” figure but, with its 12 times 12 (thousand), in a divine order showing the sum total of all the nuances possible of “being human”. Standing in the catastrophic and apocalyptic storms which began with the opening of the seals, in a moment of profound divine calm they are sealed on their foreheads by an angel ascending from the rising of the sun. This sealing marks a stage of development towards the resurrection body, to which Christ refers when he speaks about the food the Son of Man will give, food “which remains as life throughout the ages”, because he himself is the one sealed by the Father God (Jn 6:27).2 On those devoted to Christ, the sealing begins to work as a preparation for the resurrection of the Last Day.

The next vision [beginning the Second Throne Vision] shows Christians in the other world as “a great multitude which no man could number” (7:9) – “after this”. Here, the Greek plural for “this” indicates that a greater interval of time may in the meantime have happened, the time of “the great tribulation” out of which these Christians have come (7:14). It’s a great change from the first vision of the dead souls under the heavenly altar; now the dead are privileged to become active in the upper world in the way described to John by one of the elders (7:15-17), singing the great hymn, “Salvation to our God … and to the Lamb” (7:10). Now that the deliverance brought by Christ has arrived on the earth, has really “come” to human beings, it begins to radiate from truly Christian souls as thanks, returning “to” God in the higher world. When the Lamb “guides them” on their paths, their inner reconciliation with the terrible things they endured on earth can come about (7:17).