For the Advancement of the World 2: The Living and the Dead1

The book of the Apocalypse describes many visions seen by John. Its first main vision centers on “a Son of Man”, whom John, having turned around when called, sees in the midst of seven golden lampstands, and on his words which John writes down in letters to seven churches (chapters 1-3). With an open door in heaven and John “having come up thither” begins the second vision, of a throne and one seated on the throne – center of heavenly activity and deadlock (chapter 4). In the last main vision John sees a new heaven and a new earth, the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God (chapter 21). Human evolution, both of those living and those dead, is becoming clearly visible in the descriptions of the unfolding apocalyptical drama.

In the first main vision, that of one like a son of main in de midst of seven golden lampstands, the one who died and since is alive for evermore tells John to write letters to the angels of seven Christian churches. In the letters, he speaks of the strengths and weaknesses of people in the various communities, of temptations and pitfalls, of the aims and goals for those who persevere and conquer. A kind of evolutionary picture of human possibilities and goals within the apocalyptic landscape arises, the last letter with its “I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I myself conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne” (3:21) preparing for the second vision.

In his second vision, John moves into the higher world, following the “Come up hither” from the voice which had already spoken to him, to be confronted by a throne in heaven. The One seated on the throne (who in descriptions is never named, except when addressed in the last vision of the throne) is pictured in many colors; he is surrounded by a rainbow and twenty-four thrones for twenty-four elders. Flashes of lightning, voices and peals of thunder emanate from the throne; before it burn seven torches of fire and lies something like a sea of glass, like crystal. On each side of the throne, all around, four living creatures never cease to sing a “Holy, holy, holy”, taken up by the elders.

But otherwise all is static; nothing more happens. A scroll in the hand of the one sitting on the throne stays closed, sealed, and an angel calls out for one worthy to change this deadlock. And then John perceives a Lamb standing in the midst of the throne, of the living creatures and the elders: a Lamb “as if sacrificed”, who goes to take the scroll, to open the seven seals one after the other. This is honored by a new song by the living creatures and the elders, holding bowls full of incense “which are the prayers of the saints” – a new song singing about human beings ransomed by the Lamb for God, who shall reign on earth as kings and priests. Then all living creatures in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea respond with their own hymn. So, indeed, “the deed of life and death on Golgotha”, here appearing in the picture of a Lamb-as-if-sacrificed, in this first apocalyptic heavenly picture also receives a response from human beings on earth.

This first impression of human Christian activity in the heavens (“bowls full of incense, the prayers of the saints”) is followed by a different scene: of “souls” of Christian martyrs under the heavenly altar before the throne (6:9, see 8:3), after the 5th seal has been opened. They seem to be newly martyred, tender yet, and very unsatisfied, longing for vengeance: “How long yet before….?”, as they are still mired in an eye-for-an-eye experience of destiny. But they are told to rest a little longer, until the Mystery of Golgotha has matured in people on earth (as “constructive aid”, with Rudolf Frieling). But they receive, each of them, a white garment, in order to be able to exist here in a new “body”.

During a pause between the 6th and 7th seal, with a shift to the earth, the 144.000 are sealed (a number heard in Spirit, 7:4), “structured onto resurrection”. This kind of sealing we have already met when Christ speaks about the bread of life in the Gospel of John (6:27): that the Father has set his seal on the Son of Man, in preparation for resurrection “at the last day”, that he be able to offer food which remains as life throughout the ages. This is the “pharmakon athanasias” of which the early Christian writer Ignatius of Antioch speaks, who himself was martyred around 108 AD in Rome, when writing his letter to the Ephesians: the “medicine of immortality” (20:2).

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