Apocalypse (5) Human Evolution in the Apocalypse of John1

Between the beginning and the end of this chapter, there is still another vision that leads us for the last time to the earth, to the Christians still living below in earthly incarnations. “Once more the adversaries rear up in a last effort. The armies of Gog and Magog appear ‘like the sand of the sea’ as one great mass. They march forth like something risen from the underworld, a strange sight in the light of day. ‘They marched up over the broad earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city’ (20:9). The saints on earth do not cling to material existence, settled and enjoying their possessions. They have no settled abode, and live in a camp like soldiers. The puzzling expression, ‘beloved city’ again indicates the heavenly Jerusalem, which has been prepared and announced in various preliminary stages…” (Frieling, p 110-111) The attack, it seems, is easily repulsed this time, the mighty dead apparently helping from above, fire coming down from heaven to decide the battle.

Now follows the picture of “the great white throne”, and before the gaze of the One seated on the throne the world dematerializes: “From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them”. (20:11) Space disappears; human beings alone are left, who have to stand before the countenance of the One who sits on the throne. They can’t anymore even hope to flee into the world of matter, in the way those at the time of the sixth seal cried for cover in the caves and under the rocks of the mountains (6:16). As already in the fourth seal, Death and Hades appear like persons bringing about death and the darkening of souls after death – now they have been completely overthrown (20:14, see 21:8). “Then the realm of the resurrection appears in the heavenly Jerusalem where the New Heaven and the New Earth become one.” (Frieling, p 111-112) [The Final Vision]

Recapitulating, Frieling remarks that “the sequence of pictures in John’s Apocalypse unmistakably shows a development in mankind’s ability to receive Christ”. (p 112) The progress in the way human beings join themselves with Christ, though, is not described in continuity, it reveals itself in separate momentary glimpses – from picture to picture, in a continuous change of scene between earth and heaven. By virtue of the concept of reincarnation, one is able to see each individual Christian fully included in these changes of scene, as well as in the related reciprocal effects of periods of incarnation on earth and of excarnation in heaven, which go on until the Last Day.

Looking back at what Rudolf Frieling described, we find that this progress and its participants can’t be understood by a kind of linear thinking, by thinking in “black and white”. As we have seen, elements of apocalyptic reality are found in the “it will be and is already now” (p 96), as well as in realizing that preparatory stages are recurring (p 97). Visions are often open to completion; one-sidedly as they often are, they include only one aspect (p 101). The analytical approach familiar to us may not yield answers, as Rudolf Frieling shows while describing the importance of the word arti, “from now on”, “henceforth”, used in the hymn after the battle in heaven (12:10). Seen from there, “above in heaven”, the victory is already assured. But the Antichrist chapter (13) shows that this is, as it were, “in anticipation”. The second “henceforth” in 14:13 is, by comparison, “in retrospect”. Though it was already true, only now does one become fully aware of the final triumph. – In the light on the vision, described in the hymn (7:15f) before the trumpets began to sound after the opening of the seventh seal, we find that was what already valid, still has to be won overall.

John, in his first letter3, makes us aware that our own human ability to perceive is not something static, anymore than apocalyptic reality itself – the question of the “Second Coming” otherwise would not be relevant. In a different way, people confronted with early apocalyptic stirrings tend to succumb to the lure of a “shortened perspective”: what stretches out over long periods of time seems already to be “just around the corner”, so near that one could almost touch it!4

Apocalyptic reality in its progress, as we saw, is not described in continuity; it reveals itself in separate momentary glimpses – from picture to picture, in a continuous change of scene. An example: Frieling remarks on the subtle way in which the Apocalypse describes how human beings are connected with him “who sits upon the throne”. In the all-encompassing promise at the beginning of the Second Throne Vision, John hears that “he who sits upon the throne will shelter them with his presence” (7:15), literally but less poetically the text says: “he will dwell above them”, by using the preposition epi, “above”. In the New Jerusalem taking shape, this promise has become: “Behold, the dwelling of God is with human beings” (21:3), using the preposition meta, “with”. God is not anymore “above” human beings, he is “with” them: now, the incarnation is complete: “it is done”. Looking at the pictures themselves, we observe that the heavenly Jerusalem is without a temple (21:22), no separate sanctuary can there be found. Now the heavenly temple has become identical with the world of human beings, with the human “city”. (p 113)

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