Apocalypse 1: The Writer1

His first vision grows out of his Sunday-experience of “being in the Spirit”. Then he hears a loud voice behind him, like a trumpet (1:10), calling on him to write what he sees in a book and to send it to the seven churches named one after the other. Then, turning to see the voice that was speaking, he perceives seven golden lampstands and in the midst of the lampstands “one like a son of man” – the Christ within his seven congregations. “Write what you see, what is and what is to take place hereafter” (1:19). When he begins to write down the letters to the angels of the seven congregations, many particulars of the appearance of the “one like a son of man” return. “He who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks among the seven golden lampstands” (2:1), “The first and the last, who died and came to life” (2:8), “He who has the sharp two-edged sword” (2:12) – and so on.

Then there happens a break. John continues with an “after this”, which indicates a longer pause. “After this I looked” (4:1). His second vision begins when he sees an open door in heaven, and hears the first voice, which he had heard speaking to him like a trumpet, saying: “Come up hither, and I will show you what must take place after this” – “at once” he is “in the Spirit (4:2). Now he sees a throne in heaven, and One seated on the throne. He describes the One sitting on the throne, and those around the throne, beings singing continuous praise in choirs of “Living Creatures” and “Elders”. The One seated on the throne has a scroll in his hand, and nobody in heaven or on earth or under the earth is able to open the scroll, written within and on the back. John, seeing this, weeps (5:4). But, consoled by one of the Elders, he perceives a Lamb standing in the midst of the throne and the beings, “as though sacrificed” – and he perceives that the heavenly deadlock has been broken. The seven seals are opened one after the other.

Once more “after this) (7:9), after a pause when the sixth seal had been opened, he sees a great multitude (the 144,000) standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, adding their own song of praise, which is taken up by the angels round the throne and its beings. Now one of the Elders addresses him, inquiring about those in white robes, and when John can’t answer he gives the answer himself. Then, after a silence in heaven “for about half an hour”, the seventh seal is opened which releases the angel with the seven trumpets, which after the sixth trumpet include the seven thunders (10:3). Then an angel appears with a little scroll open in his hand. But John is told to seal up and not to tell what the seven thunders have said, as the mystery of God should yet be fulfilled. The voice which he had heard before from heaven tells him to take this scroll and eat it (“it will be bitter to your stomach, but sweet as honey in your mouth”). Having eaten it, he is told that he again must prophecy (10:11). He is told to measure the temple and the altar and those who worship there; but nothing more (11:1-2).

When the seventh trumpet has sounded and loud voices have spoken and praised, a heavenly woman is seen, pursued by a red dragon. When Michael and his angels have brought the scene of battle down to the earth, two beasts are seen rising, one out of the sea and one out of the earth itself, testing endurance and faith of those on earth with their words and deeds. But then the multitude of the 144,000 can be seen once more, now gathered around the Lamb on Mount Zion (14:1), redeemed from the earth and singing a new song. When the coming great separation4 has been announced, John is told to write what a voice in heaven speaks: “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord henceforth….”, the first of four beatitudes heard within John’s visions (14:13), before the One like a Son of Man sends his sickle in for the harvest of the earth.

The third “portent” seen in heaven opens John’s eye for the setting of the throne with its sea of glass before it, and for the temple of the tent of witness out of which come the angels with the seven bowls with the last plagues (15:1ff). When “it is done” (16:17) and the great separation has happened, one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls approaches John, to show him the judgment of the great whore, the “scarlet woman”. And he is carried away “in the Spirit” to the place where this woman dwells (17:3) – it seems to need a special effort to show him this final scene of earthly abomination. He “marvels greatly”, but is told that doesn’t need to marvel as all is going to be explained to him. “After this” he is able to perceive the final judgment on Babylon (18:1ff).

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