Apocalypse (4)1 Apocalyptic Times

The Seven Letters

We may read these seven letters as a preparation for “becoming apocalyptic” ourselves, for as it were learning to “tune-in” to the spiritual situation which develops when our world situation starts to become apocalyptic: that we may learn to deal with apocalyptic phenomena. He who speaks the words recorded here begins his letters by revealing various specific aspects of his appearance as “a son of man”. Not so much descriptions of his let’s say his “outer manifestation” themselves, the way he is clothed for instance, but more where activity goes out from him, to which he adds his essential description of himself when speaking to John. From the fourth letter onwards he announces himself also through other aspects of his apocalyptic being and activity; in the sixth and seventh letter, no memories of the first “son of man” vision remain.

When beginning to speak the words of the first letter, the One who appeared to him like a son of man shows himself in the setting in which John saw him – between the golden lampstands, in the middle of the seven churches, and holding in his right hand the seven stars, the angels of the seven churches. In the second letter he introduces himself as he spoke to John, as being the first and the last, the one who died and came to life. For the third he is the one with the sharp two-edged sword, for the fourth the one whose eyes are like a flame of fire and whose feet like burnished bronze; but here he goes beyond the first vision and reveals himself as the Son of God too. The fifth letter evokes once more the picture of the seven congregations, but also of the seven spirits of God who appeared in John’s Greetings to the Churches (1:4) and will do so again in the first Throne Vision (4:5 and 5:6). In the sixth letter, with images which occur only here and partially recur in the call of those seen cowering under the altar when the firth seal is opened (6:10), he evokes images of the one who is becoming the true Lord of Destiny. In the seventh letter, again with unique images, impressions of the Christ Jesus from John’s greetings to the Churches (1:5) blend with those of the Rider on the White Horse who inaugurates the final transformation unto a new heaven and a new earth (19:11).3

In a comparable way, in the fourth letter the promises to “him who conquers” have a special emphasis by the addition: “and who keeps my works until the end” (2:26). Here, a typical Johannine word which in the Gospel is connected with “my word”, “your word”, “my commandments” and “the commandments of my Father”4 appears in connection with “my works” – “keeping my works until the end”. In this way, the outcome of such perseverance is moved into the truly apocalyptic realm over which “the morning star” will shine (see 22:16). And that indeed is the realm into which these promises lead: in the first letter to “eating the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God” (2:7, see 22:2,14,19), in the second letter to “not being hurt by the second death” (2:11, see 20:6 and 14, 21:8), in the third letter to the “hidden manna”, the “white stone” with the “new name written on it” (2:17) – a name which “no one knows except him who receives it” (compare 19:12). The promise in the fifth letter, “being clad in white garments”, invokes the picture of the garment of the Bride of the Lamb, its white linen being “the righteous deeds of the saints” (19:8). In the sixth letter the image of New Jerusalem is called up, wherein the presence of God and the Lamb is the temple (21:22), together with the image of the three names written on the one who is part of that city (3:12). The seventh letter crowns all this by the promise of the throne, which takes us through this Apocalypse to John right to its culmination: “to sit with me on my throne, as I myself conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne” (3:21).

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