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Bible Commentaries

Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible

Revelation Overview

 

 


REVELATION

BY PROFESSOR H. T. ANDREWS

Character of the Book.—The Book of Revelation is unique as far as the NT is concerned, and has few points of affinity with other NT writings, but it is by no means unique in Jewish or Jewish-Christian literature. It is the blossom and fruit of the great apocalyptic movement which grew up in the century before and the century after Christ. No one can hope to understand the book till he has made himself familiar with this movement, and the student is recommended to approach the study of it by reading carefully the article on Apocalyptic Literature (pp. 431-435). What Daniel is to the OT and Enoch and 4 Ezr. are to later Jewish literature, the Book of Revelation is to the NT. Until the significance of the apocalyptic movement is properly appreciated, Revelation will remain a sphinx riddle to the modern reader, and the value of its message will be completely missed.

The Interpretation of the Book.—Many methods of interpretation have been suggested. (a) One school of interpreters (generally known as the Futurists) maintains that the prophecies of the book still refer to the future, and we must wait for the end of the world before they will be realised. Such a theory, however, cannot be maintained in face of the writer's own explicit statement that his utterances must shortly come to pass (Revelation 1:1). He did not place the fulfilment of his prophecies in the dim and distant future: he looked for their realisation in his own day. (b) Another view regards the book as a diagram of history from the writer's own time to the end of the world. Part of it, therefore, has been fulfilled; part is now in course of fulfilment; part still belongs to the future. This is known as the historical method of interpretation. This theory is open to the same objections as the Futurist, and it has the additional difficulty to meet that though history has now gone on for nearly 2000 years, it is impossible to find the faintest trace of its outline in the Book of Revelation. (c) The true theory is known as the Preterist, and maintains that the writer had solely the needs of his own age in view when he wrote the book. The drama belongs entirely to the past. The vision of the author never extended beyond the first century. The Apocalypse was an attempt to solve the problems which faced the Early Church. Like all other apocalyptic writers, the author of Revelation could see no escape from the difficulties of the hour, except by a Divine intervention which would mean the end of the age.

The Situation in which the Book was Written.—The book was written to meet an extremely grave situation. Persecution had broken out on all sides. The writer himself had been exiled to Patmos. Though the name of only one martyr (Antipas) is given (Revelation 2:13), there is every indication that martyrdoms were of frequent occurrence. At the opening of the fifth seal, for instance, the writer sees "underneath the altar the souls of them that had been slain for the word of God and for the testimony which they held" (Revelation 6:9). A systematic attempt was being made to establish Cæsar-worship on an extensive scale. An edict was issued that "as many as should not worship the image of the beast should be killed" (Revelation 13:15). The devotees of the cult of Cæsar wore a special mark "on their right hand or upon their forehead," and all who had not received the "mark of the beast," as it was called, were boycotted in the markets and ostracised in social life. This clash between Christianity and Cæsar-worship entailed untold sufferings upon the followers of Christ. To profess the Christian faith meant the risk of martyrdom and the certainty of petty persecution in the ordinary avocations of life. The strain had become well-nigh intolerable, and a wholesale sacrifice of life seemed inevitable if Christianity was to maintain its integrity. It was no wonder that large numbers of Christians grew weak in the faith and compromised their religion.

The Message of the Book.—It was to meet this situation that the Book of Revelation was written. The writer had inherited from the past three great ideas. (a) Like all Christians of the time he believed in the near return of Christ. (b) Like all apocalyptic writers he held that before the end God would intervene in human history to vindicate truth and righteousness and save His people from their foes. (c) This intervention would mean a day of judgment for the world, the destruction of Antichrist, and the establishment of a kingdom of saints. In the Book of Revelation the three great ideas are applied to the crisis which confronted the Church in the first century. The prospect seemed so hopeless that no human way of escape appeared possible. Faith, therefore, demanded that God should act, and in the first century Divine action could only follow the lines which had been laid down in apocalyptic literature. The Book of Revelation is right in assuming that God must come to the rescue of His people; it is wrong only when it attempts to describe the mode in which the deliverance must arrive. Its lurid pictures of the outpouring of God's wrath were not realised, but its promise of Divine succour and help for the stricken Church was abundantly fulfilled.

The Unity of the Book.—There has been much discussion in recent years as to whether the book is the work of an original prophet, or whether it embodies a Jewish Apocalypse or at any rate some old Jewish apocalyptic material. One of the most advanced theories is that of Vischer, who maintains that the bulk of the book is a Jewish work to which the author has added a Christian introduction (Revelation 1-3) and appendix (Revelation 22) and some interpolations in the general body of the work. This view is at first sight very attractive. Harnack says, for instance, that when he first read it, "there fell, as it were, scales from my eyes." It has not, however, won general support, because most writers feel that the Christian elements are inextricably woven into the fabric of the book, and cannot be as easily separated as Vischer imagines. The very simplicity of the theory seems to be fatal to it. More complicated theories like those of Weyland, Spitta, and Schmidt assume the existence of two or even three Jewish sources which have been incorporated in the present work. It is impossible to describe these hypotheses in detail here, but a full account may be found in Moffatt's INT, pp. 489-491. The view which finds most acceptance among modern scholars is that the book on the whole is a unity, but that the author freely used not so much a Jewish Apocalypse but apocalyptic material taken from many sources. There is a difference of opinion as to the amount of this material which has been embodied in the book, but most scholars are agreed that it includes Revelation 11:1-13 and Revelation 12. Many critics think that there are interpolations in 7, 8, 13, 18, and 19 (see Moffatt, pp. 493-496).

The Drama of the Book.—One of the great problems is to decide whether there is any real movement in the plot of the book, or whether the different scenes simply recapitulate the same position. Is the book a drama in which there is a steady progress towards the climax, or does it resemble a miracle play "in which the different scenes are loosely thrown together without any unity of development? Do the "seven trumpets" and "the seven bowls" represent an advance on "the seven seals" or are they simply a repetition? Much may be said in favour of both views. As the book stands, there is certainly much repetition, but at the same time there is a movement of the drama. The appearance of Antichrist in the second half of the book marks a real advance upon the position reached in the first half. Much of the repetition may be due to the writer's desire to keep the number "seven" throughout. There are indications, for instance, that there were only four seals in the source which the writer used, and according to J. Weiss and Charles there were originally only three trumpets.

The Contents of the Book may be tabulated as follows:

I. Prelude (Revelation 1-3).

(a) The Introductory Vision.

(b) The Letters to the Seven Churches.

II. Act I. The Seven Seals (Revelation 4-6).

(a) Scene 1. The Vision of Heaven (Revelation 4 f.).

(b) Scene 2. The Plagues of the Seven Seals (Revelation 6).

III. First Interlude (Revelation 7): The Sealing of the Redeemed on Earth and in Heaven.

IV. Act II. The Seven Trumpets (Revelation 8 f.).

V. Second Interlude (Revelation 10 f.) in two parts.

(a) The Vision of the Strong Angel and the Little Book (Revelation 10).

(b) The Vision of the two Witnesses (Revelation 11:1-14).

VI. Act III (Revelation 12 f.).

(a) Scene 1. The Appearance of the Dragon and the War in Heaven (Revelation 12).

(b) Scene 2. The Appearance of the Two Beasts and the War on Earth (Revelation 13).

VII. Third Interlude (Revelation 14). The Vision of the Redeemed in Heaven and the Doomed on Earth.

VIII. Act IV. The Plague of the Bowls (Revelation 15 f.).

(a) Scene 1. Vision of Heaven (Revelation 15).

(b) Scene 2. The Plague of the Bowls (Revelation 16).

IX. Act V. The Vision of Doom (Revelation 17-20).

(a) Scene 1. The Overthrow of the Beast (Revelation 17) followed by a Dirge over the Fallen City (Revelation 18).

(b) Scene 2. The Triumph of Heaven (Revelation 19).

(c) Scene 3. The Overthrow of Satan and the Final Judgment (Revelation 20).

X. Act VI. The New Heaven and the New Earth (Revelation 21:1 to Revelation 22:5).

XI. Epilogue (Revelation 22:6-21).

The Author of the Book.—The only facts we gather from the book itself are that its author's name was John—that he was a "brother and partaker" with the people to whom he was writing "in the tribulation and kingdom"—and that he had been exiled to Patmos "for the word of God and the testimony of Jesus." There is nothing in these statements to identify this John with the Apostle, but early Christian tradition assumed the identification. Justin Martyr (about A.D. 150) says definitely with reference to the book, "A certain man whose name was John, one of the apostles of Christ, prophesied in a revelation which came to him." Tertullian and Clement of Alexandria are equally emphatic in their statements. This opinion was not definitely challenged till the third century, when Gaius of Rome (210) and Dionysius of Alexandria (A.D. 240) denied, on the grounds of style and subject-matter, that the Fourth Gospel and the Book of Revelation could be the work of the same writer. Eusebius of Cæarea too (A.D. 325) expresses some hesitation about admitting the Apocalypse into the NT Canon, and this hesitation would have been impossible, if he had been sure that the book was written by an apostle. There are strong grounds to-day for questioning the apostolic authorship. (a) The early tradition in its favour is by no means conclusive. We have almost as good grounds for assigning to Peter an apocalypse which we know he did not write. (b) Modern criticism corroborates the opinion of Dionysius, that it is incredible that the Book of Revelation and the Fourth Gospel came from the same pen. The style, the contents, and the theological outlook of the two books are diametrically opposed to each other. It is not too much to say that if the two books were written by the same hand, the personality of the author must have completely changed in the interval. (c) There is nothing in the book itself which constitutes a claim to apostolic authorship. John was a common name, and no two Johns ought to be identified without a tangible reason. Failing John the Apostle, an attempt has been made by some scholars to identify the writer of the Revelation with John the Presbyter, who is described by Papias as a disciple of the Lord. The points in favour of the theory are: (a) John the Presbyter belonged to the inner group of teachers in the sub-apostolic age. (b) He lived in Asia Minor. (c) He probably shared the millenarian views of Papias. But the theory is mere guesswork after all, and there are no grounds which enable us to lift it out of the region of hypothesis. Another view, which was first suggested as a possibility (though he did not accept it) by Dionysius of Alexandria, connects the Revelation with the name of John Mark, the reputed author of the second gospel. Here again, however, the evidence is far too slight and scanty to amount to anything like proof. One serious objection is that we have no data for connecting John Mark with Asia Minor. In the light of our present knowledge, therefore, all that can be said is that we have no means of identifying with certainty the John to whom the authorship of the Apocalypse is imputed. He must remain "an unknown prophet," but that does not in the least detract from the value of his book.

The Date of the Book.—Ancient tradition is fairly unanimous in assigning the book to the reign of Domitian (A.D. 81-96). Irenæus (A.D. 180), for instance, says that the vision of the Apocalypse "was seen not a long time ago, but almost in our own generation, at the end of the reign of Domitian." Attempts have been made by many modern scholars, however, to prove an earlier date for the book. Some have attempted to place it as early as the reign of Nero. The main argument upon which they rely is the statement in Revelation 11:1, which appears to imply that the Temple at Jerusalem was still intact, and which, in that case, must refer to a period anterior to the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 (Revelation 11:1*). In addition to this, those scholars who maintain the Johannine authorship of both the Fourth Gospel and the Book of Revelation find it necessary, on account of the differences in style and outlook, to posit a longer interval between the two books than a Domitianic date would allow. Others argue for a date in the reign of Vespasian (about 77). The mainstay of this theory is the allusion to the seven kings in Revelation 17:10*, where the reigning emperor is probably to be identified with Vespasian, and the fact that the frequent allusions to the legend of a "returning Nero" imply that his death had already occurred. It does not seem easy, however, to maintain either of these theories in view of the following facts: (a) The widespread cult of Cæsar-worship, which is writ large over the pages of the Book of Revelation, belongs to the age of Domitian rather than to an earlier period. As Moffatt says, "No worship of the Emperor which is adequate to the data of the Apocalypse was enforced till Domitian's reign." (b) There is no trace before Domitian of such a persecution in Asia Minor as is described in the Apocalypse. Nero's persecution was limited in the main to Rome, and there does not seem to have been another serious outbreak till we reach Domitian's reign. (c) The allusion to the "eighth emperor" in Revelation 17:11* carries us beyond Vespasian and seems to identify "Nero redivivus" with Domitian. In view of these facts, it seems best to maintain the traditional date, first suggested by Irenæus, for the book in its finished form, i.e. some date between A.D. 80 and 96. The indications which seem to point to an earlier date are probably to be explained by the fact that the author has incorporated earlier material, and in some cases has omitted to bring it up to date.

The Canonicity of the Book.—"No book in the NT," says Swete, "with so good a record, was so long in gaining general acceptance." Dionysius of Alexandria in his critique of it says, "Before our time some have rejected and attempted to refute the book as a whole, criticising every chapter and pronouncing it unintelligible and nonsensical." He then proceeds to state the theory, which was held in many quarters, that it was the work of Cerinthus. He tells us, however, that he is not able to accept this view himself, since, though he feels its contents "pass his comprehension," he is not willing on that account to reject it altogether. Gaius of Rome, too, who wrote some thirty years earlier than Dionysius (202-219), also denied that the book was of apostolic origin, and ascribed it to Cerinthus. Eusebius, as we have seen, also displays some doubt about the book, and tells us that in his day some people ranked it among "the spurious writings," while Cyril of Alexandria (c. 430) not only omits it from his list of canonical writings, but seems definitely to exclude it from private and public use. Yet, in spite of these adverse opinions, there is no doubt that the Apocalypse received very warm support from quite early days. There seems to be evidence that it was known to and used by Papias (c. 135). It is apparently quoted in the Shepherd of Hennas (c. 140). Justin Martyr mentions it by name and ascribes it to the Apostle John. Melito of Sardis seems to have written a book about it. The Muratorian Canon (c. A.D. 170) recognises it and acknowledges the Johannine authorship. The letter of the Churches in Gaul (A.D. 177, Eusebius, Eccl. Hist. Jude 1:1) quotes it as Scripture. Later writers like Irenæus, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, Origen and Cyprian, accept it without question. The evidence is, therefore, overwhelming that by far the greatest and most influential section of the Christian Church in the early centuries ranked the Apocalypse as Scripture.

Literature.Commentaries; (a) C. A. Scott (Cent.B), A. Ramsay (WNT), Randell (PC), Lee (Sp.), W. Milligan, Simcox (CB), Dean; (b) Swete, Moffatt (EGT), Hort (chs. 1-3 only), Simcox (CGT), Charles (ICC); (c) Calmes,*Bleek, Bousset2 (Mey.), J. Weiss (SNT), Holtzmann-Bauer (HC); (d) W. Milligan (Ex.B), C. A. Scott, The Book of the Revelation; C. Brown, Heavenly Visions; W. Milligan, Lectures on the Apocalypse; Hill, Apocalyptic Problems; Goudge, The Apocalypse and the Present Age (CQR, Oct. Revelation 19:16). Other Literature: Articles in Dictionaries, Histories of the Apostolic Age, Introductions to NT, Burkitt, Jewish and Christian Apocalypses; Charles, Studies in the Apocalypse; Pfleiderer, Primitive Christianity, vol. iii.; W. M. Ramsay, The Letters to the Seven Churches; Porter, The Messages of the Apocalyptic Writers; Gunkel, Schöpfung und Chaos; Workman, Persecution in the Early Church; Peake, The Person of Christ in the Revelation of John in Mansfield College Essays; C. H. Turner, Studies in Early Church History, 189ff.; Studies by Vischer, J. Weiss, Wellhausen, etc.

APOCALYPTIC LITERATURE

BY PROFESSOR H. T. ANDREWS

SOME of the greatest discoveries of modern biblical criticism have been made in the field of what is known as Apocalyptic. No one can read the NT without being impressed by the unique character of the Book of Revelation. It seems to stand alone. There is nothing else which bears any resemblance to it at all, not only in the NT, but in the literature of the world. The nearest approach to it is the Book of Daniel in the OT. We know now, however, that Jewish literature in the two centuries before and the century after Christ affords us many parallels to the Book of Revelation. Other Apocalypses have been discovered of a similar type, and it is now proved beyond all question that the Book of Revelation is the climax of a very important literary and theological movement in Judaism. We shall try to show (1) the character and significance of the movement, (2) the origin of the movement, (3) its literary and theological development, (4) its influence upon Christianity.

The Meaning of the Term.—The term Apocalypse means an "unveiling or" disclosure, and a book that bears the name claims to reveal and make plain things which are ordinarily hidden from human eyes. An Apocalypse, therefore, displays very little interest in the present world—it is essentially an unveiling of the future, and it strives to open a window through which it is possible to look into the realities of the unseen world. The nearest approach to Apocalyptic in other literature is to be found in the vision of the realm of the Dead in Homer's Iliad and Virgil's Æneid, and in the visions of Purgatory and Heaven in the poems of Dante.

The Relation between Apocalyptic and Prophecy.—Prophecy was the forerunner of Apocalyptic. The Apocalyptists were the successors of the prophets. There is much in common between the two. Both prophet and Apocalyptist claim to be inspired by God and to be the vehicle of His revelation to man. Both attempt to make known to the people the Divine will and purpose in history. But there are remarkable differences between them. In the first place the prophet was primarily a preacher. He spoke to men directly. It is often a mere accident that his words have been preserved in a book. There were prophets in Israel whose messages have been entirely lost. The Apocalyptist, on the other hand, was primarily a writer. He spoke to the world through his book. His own personality is quite irrelevant. We know nothing about the man behind the writing. The prophet flung himself into the thick of the fray: he intervened in the crises of his nation's history, and tried to shape his country's destiny in accordance with what he conceived to be the will of God. The Apocalyptist sat apart, veiling his identity under a pseudonym, dreaming his dreams and seeing his visions in solitude. Then, again, the prophet's message was concerned with the plane of this world. He spoke to his own age. When he promised deliverance to his people, he looked for that deliverance to happen in his own time. The Apocalyptist despairs altogether of the present age and the present world. His eyes are directed to the end of things, to the final Divine intervention which is to bring down the curtain on the drama of history and usher in the "New Jerusalem which cometh down from heaven. "The prophet rarely looks beyond the horizon of his own generation. He is engrossed in the social and religious problems that confront his contemporaries. The Apocalyptist has no patience with the futile schemes and plans of his own time. To his mind there is no hope for the world along the usual lines. God must break into history afresh and set up His kingdom with His own hand. Nothing but a supernatural intervention—a catastrophic "day of the Lord"—can save the world.

Moreover, the historical horizon of the Apocalyptist was far wider than that of the prophet. The prophet was concerned with the position of Israel among the nations of the world in his own time. Egypt, Babylon, Moab, Ammon, and the other powers which happened to dominate the situation in his day, form the subject of his utterances, and the ultimate triumph of Israel is always the shining hope which he holds before the eyes of his people. A period of five hundred years elapsed between the age of the great prophets and the age of the Apocalyptists. In the interval much had happened. Israel had fallen under the sway of Babylon, Persia, Syria, Egypt, and Rome in rapid succession. New factors had arisen, which made the hopes of the prophets vain, and induced the spirit of pessimism and despair. The Apocalyptist, therefore, had far more historical experience behind him than the prophet, and, unfortunately, the greater the experience the more dismal appeared the prospect of Israel from a political and worldly point of view.

The Problem of Apocalyptic.—Palestine, it must be remembered, was the Belgium of the ancient world, and formed the buffer-state between the empires which were contending for the mastery of the world. In the conflicts between Babylon and Egypt in earlier times, and Syria and Egypt in later times, Palestine always suffered devastation and ruin. Time after time its lands were ravaged, its cities destroyed, and its people slain or deported. The problem which the statesmen of Israel had to face was: "How can the country be kept free from foreign foes?" "How can Israel avoid being embroiled in these struggles of empires for supremacy? Sometimes a policy of neutrality was adopted; sometimes Israel sought safety by making an alliance with what seemed to be the strongest power. But neither the policy of neutrality nor the policy of alliances served to keep the soil of Israel sacrosanct. Statesmanship had to confess itself bankrupt. It seemed as if the "little nation" of Israel were destined to be the prey of every great empire that emerged upon the field of history. But the problem not only baffled statesmanship, it was a challenge also to faith. The earlier prophets adopted a confident tone. They maintained that Yahweh would prove the saviour of His people and deliver the nation from its adversaries, and sometimes their promises were marvellously fulfilled. The respite, however, was always brief, and it was never long before a new international crisis arose. Gradually the splendid optimism of the earlier prophets changed to pessimism, but it took centuries before despair really settled upon the spirit of the nation. Apocalyptic is the literature of this despair. The Apocalyptist recognises that there is no hope for Israel along the ordinary lines of history. Palestine can never become a world-empire and the centre of universal dominion—at least, not by political methods. Five hundred years of failure have made that lesson obvious. But how could the failure of Israel be reconciled with faith in God? Were the promises of the prophets futile and abortive? That was the main problem which faced the religious leaders of Israel in the later centuries. The answer which they found to it was not the abandonment of faith but its intensification. What could not be realised by the ordinary methods of national development would be achieved by a miraculous intervention. God would break into history. There would be a final cataclysm, followed by the destruction of Israel's enemies and the establishment of God's kingdom upon earth.

The Origin and Development of Apocalyptic.—Apocalyptic proper begins with the Book of Enoch and the Book of Daniel, but neither the method nor the idea was altogether new. Germs of both are to be found in the prophets themselves. Most of the prophets spoke of "a day of the Lord." "Behold the day of the Lord cometh with wrath and fierce anger to lay the land desolate," says the unknown writer of Isaiah 13. The second chapter of Joel is a splendid illustration of Apocalyptic. It foretells the advent of "the day," and describes it as "a day of darkness and gloominess, a day of clouds and thick darkness." "I will show wonders in the heaven and in the earth, blood and fire and pillars of smoke. The earth shall be turned into darkness and the moon into blood before the great and the terrible day of the Lord come." The same conception forms the main theme of the prophecy of Zephaniah: "Wait ye upon me, saith the Lord, until the day that I rise up to the prey; for my determination is to gather the nations . . . to pour upon them mine indignation . . . for all the earth shall be devoured with the fire of my jealousy." Then, too, we have in Isaiah 65 the vision of the new heavens and the new earth which God is to create in place of the old. But though the idea of "the day of the Lord" is found commonly in the prophets, it is often a "day of the Lord" against Israel's foes or the unrighteous in Israel itself; and, moreover, the agent in the infliction of the punishment is generally some human force—e.g. "the northern army" of Joel. In prophecy, as a rule, God acts indirectly through human agencies; in Apocalyptic He acts directly by a personal intervention.

We may say, therefore, that Apocalyptic arose out of prophecy by developing and universalising the con, ception of the day of the Lord. Its chief interest lay in the questions and problems connected with this idea. The prophets had left the picture vague and indefinite; the Apocalyptists attempted to fill in the details and give concrete form and body to the vision. What would happen when the "great day" came? What would be its antecedents? What would be the character of "the judgment" and the punishment meted out to the guilty? What would be the nature of the new kingdom that was to be set up? Would it be composed of Israelites only, or would Gentiles be admitted to it? Would it be permanent or only temporary, and, if the latter, what would be its duration? Would the pious dead have any lot in it, and, if so, what would be the nature of their resurrection? Would the wicked also be raised for punishment? What was the nature of the unseen world and heaven and hell? These and many other difficult questions naturally arose, and it was the task of Apocalyptic to attempt to find the answers. The main interest of Apocalyptic, therefore, was always in the problems of eschatology. It looked beyond the narrow horizon of history into the "great beyond." It attempted to explore the "dim hinterland" of existence and find some token of its nature and character. It abandoned the present world as hopeless, but it found its comfort and consolation in a vision—such as no Israelite had ever had before—of a new heaven and a new earth.

Some Characteristics of Apocalyptic.—The first important characteristic of Apocalyptic is the fact that the writings are always pseudonymous. The authors never write in their own names, but always adopt the name of one of Israel's heroes in the past—e.g. Enoch, Daniel, the Patriarchs, Baruch, Moses, Isaiah, etc. Many motives have been suggested for this pseudonymity. Some have found the reason in the fact that the Apocalyptists were devoid of literary ambition, and thought only of the message which they were anxious to convey to the people. Others have argued that they concealed their identity in order to avoid the risk of martyrdom. The real motive, however, is probably that which has recently been suggested by Dr. Charles. At the time when Apocalyptic flourished, the Law had been established in Israel as a complete embodiment of the Divine revelation. "Thus theoretically and practically no room was left for new light, or any fresh disclosure of God's will." From the third century B.C. onward (that is, after the formation of the Canon of the OT in its earliest forms) writers were compelled by "the tyranny of the Law and the petrified orthodoxies of the time" to resort to pseudonymity. Their only chance of securing a hearing for their teaching was to attribute it to some consecrated name in the pre-legal period. New hymns were therefore ascribed to David, and books like Canticles and Ecclesiastes to Solomon. Pseudonymity was a literary device to obtain an audience—an act of homage paid by the present to the past.

Another well-marked characteristic is the use of symbol and figure. Apocalyptic created a style and a vocabulary of its own. Its writers gave full play to their imagination. Jewish poetry is for the most part simple and restrained. Jewish Apocalyptic revels in phantasies and allows the imagination to run riot. One of the earliest illustrations of this method is to be found in the elaborate vision of the wheels in the first chapter of Ezekiel. Daniel's visions of the great image with head of gold and feet of iron and clay (Daniel 2), and of the four beasts (Daniel 7), and of the ram and the he-goat (Daniel 8), are further examples of this mode of writing. We may be quite sure that allusions which are obscure to us to-day owing to our ignorance of the details of the situation were clear as crystal when the books were first written. There gradually grew up an apocalyptic tradition. The method became stereotyped. The same figures and symbols reappear in writer after writer. The Book of Revelation in the NT cannot be understood at all apart from the other literature of Apocalyptic. Nearly every picture which the writer draws has a history behind it, and we need to know the history before we can appreciate the picture. To take an illustration. In the Book of Revelation the duration of the rule of Antichrist is described as "forty and two months" (Revelation 11:2; Revelation 13:5), or 1260 days (Daniel 11:3). How did the writer get this figure? We have only to turn to the Book of Daniel to find the answer to this question. The 42 months or 1260 days of Revelation represent the three and a half years of the persecution of Antiochus Epiphanes (from the spring of 168 B.C. to the autumn of 165 B.C.). The actual duration of the persecution under Antiochus became the traditional duration of the reign of Antichrist. Thus we see that the facts and events of the Maccabean struggle became the type and prophecy of the final conflict with Antichrist at the end of time. The figure of Antichrist is very largely the figure of Antiochus "writ large" and thrown upon the screen of the future. The scenery and panorama of the apocalyptic dream were slowly evolved. There is a history behind every figure and nearly every phrase. The same ideas constantly recur, modified, of course, to suit the needs of the time. The originality of the Book of Revelation lies not so much in the symbols and the imagery (which are mostly old), but in the adaptation of apocalyptic tradition to the circumstances of the Christian Church of the first century.

Apocalyptic Literature.—Apocalyptic literature begins with the Book of Daniel, which was written shortly after the sacrilege of Antiochus Epiphanes upon the Jewish Temple (about 165 B.C.). Judaism was stirred to its very depths by the ruthless attempt of Antiochus to thrust Greek customs and usages and worship upon the people of God (p. 607). The Book of Daniel was composed to comfort the nation in the hour of its distress, and to urge upon it the duty of resistance even to death. It holds out the promise of Divine intervention. God will set up His throne of judgment; the enemies of Israel will be overthrown; a kingdom of saints will be established, to which all nations shall be in subjection; sin will be abolished and a reign of everlasting righteousness inaugurated; the righteous dead of Israel will rise to an eternal life of glory; the wicked will be punished with contumely and shame. Next in importance to Daniel is the Book of Enoch, the earliest parts of which probably date from the same period. As it has come down to us, the book is a composite document—a library rather than a volume—and contains at any rate five different Apocalypses, ranging in date from about 170 B.C. to 64 B.C. It deals with such problems as the origin of sin, the judgment of the wicked, and the ultimate lot of the righteous, which is depicted as a long, untroubled life in an ideal Paradise on earth. The part known as "the Similitudes" is famous for its conception of the Messiah, whom it portrays as the "Son of Man" sitting beside the "Head of Days" (the Almighty) on "the throne of glory" for the judgment of the world. A third Apocalypse, known as the Book of the Secrets of Enoch, which is quite distinct from the other book ascribed to Enoch, is chiefly remarkable for its description of the "seven heavens." Each of these heavens has its particular class of occupants. The second heaven, for instance, is the abode of the fallen angels; the third is the seat of Paradise; the seventh contains the throne of God. The book belongs to the first half of the first century of the Christian era.

The overthrow of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 raised a terrible problem for the Jewish mind: How could God have permitted such a frightful disaster to fall upon His people? This problem was discussed in two well-known Apocalypses—the Apocalypse of Baruch and the Fourth Book of Ezra. The former lays stress on the certainty of Divine retribution upon sin. "Behold the days come, and the books will be opened in which are written the sins of all who have sinned and the treasuries in which the righteousness of all those who have been righteous is gathered." A belief in a bodily resurrection is strongly affirmed. "The earth will assuredly restore the dead . . . making no change in their form, but as it has received, so will it restore them." It is in this Apocalypse that the current conception of original sin is challenged and the statement made that "every man is the Adam of his own soul." The Fourth Book of Ezra is a Jewish Apocalypse in a Christian frame, since the opening and closing chapters are Christian additions—a fact which shows that the book was highly valued in early Christian circles. It contains seven visions, all of which are intended to throw light upon the problem. It cannot be said, however, that the book discovers a real solution of the difficulty, though it does suggest some lines of thought in which comfort can be found. (1) We must remember our human limitations, and that it is impossible for us to understand the dealings of an inscrutable Providence. (2) We must trust the boundless love of God. "Lovest thou the people better than He that made them?" (3) This world is not the end of things. The future life will redress the balance. (4) The day of redemption is drawing near when the Messiah will come and restore the kingdom.

Among the other writings which belong to this class of literature may be mentioned (a) The Assumption of Moses, written in the reign of Herod the Great, which gives a rapid sketch of Jewish history up to the time of writing, and foretells the advent of perilous times, and the rise of a new Antiochus, from whose persecutions, however, the people will be delivered. (b) The Book of Jubilees, or "little Genesis," which rewrites the narrative of Genesis from the point of view of late Judaism, leaving out stories which offended the religious sense of the time, and inserting allusions to later Jewish laws and festivals. The book is generally dated between 135 and 115 B.C. (c) The Ascension of Isaiah, in which there is a large admixture of Christian elements, contains an account of the ascension of Isaiah through the seven heavens, and the descent of the Messiah to the world by means of a Virgin Birth. The book is composite, but the three sections into which it is divided seem to belong to the first century A.D. (d) The Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs contains twelve ethical tracts, purporting to give the last utterances of the twelve sons of Jacob. This book too has been worked over by a Christian hand; in fact, some scholars have assumed that it was a Christian production. According to Dr. Charles the bulk of the book dates from 109-107 B.C. The Testaments are a very valuable storehouse of information with regard to the ethical teaching of the time.

Among Christian Apocalypses the chief place must be assigned to the Book of Revelation, which marks the climax of the apocalyptic movement. It was written to comfort and inspire the Christian Church in a time of persecution which threatened to reproduce all the horrors of the rgime of Antiochus Epiphanes. The writer has undoubtedly incorporated in his book much old apocalyptic material, but the outlook and the teaching are his own. His originality consists in the fact that he has infused the Christian spirit and the Christian doctrine into the apocalyptic hope. Many of the old ideas are reproduced, but they are transformed and glorified by the radiance of the Christian faith. Another Apocalypse which had great vogue in early Christian circles is the Apocalypse of Peter, some pages of which have recently been discovered. The fragment is made up of two visions: (a) the vision of the saints in Paradise, (b) the vision of Inferno. Paradise is described as a land "blooming with unfading flowers, and full of spices and fair flowering plants." The picture of Inferno is very lurid. It depicts the various forms of punishment meted out to different classes of offenders. The Apocalypse of Peter seems to have exerted a great influence on medival theology, and was undoubtedly the indirect source from which Dante's picture of Inferno was derived.

The Place of Apocalyptic in Jewish Thought.—It is often argued, especially by Jewish scholars, that the modern world tends to overestimate the influence of apocalyptic literature on Jewish thought. "Apocalyptic," it maintains, "represents a backwater and not the main stream of Jewish thought. It emanated from certain narrow circles, was altogether esoteric, and made no permanent mark on the Jewish faith." It is quite true, of course, that Judaism never absorbed the apocalyptic ideals, and perhaps the chief explanation of this is the fact that with the exception of the Book of Daniel, the Jewish Apocalypses were written too late to secure a place in the OT Canon; and when the Canon, especially the Law, was established as the form of Jewish orthodoxy, Judaism became more or less stereotyped and impervious to the newer forms of theology. There is one fact, however, which proves conclusively that, whatever the later attitude of Judaism to Apocalyptic may have been, in the centuries immediately preceding and following the birth of Christ it exercised an overwhelming influence—viz. the vast circulation which these different Apocalypses must have had throughout the length and breadth of Judaism, as witnessed by the large number of versions or translations into different languages which were made in very early times. The Apocalypse of Baruch, for instance, seems to have existed in Hebrew, Greek, Latin, and Syriac; the Book of Enoch in Aramaic, Ethiopic, Latin; the Book of Jubilees in Hebrew, Greek, Ethiopic, Latin, and Syriac; the Testaments of the Patriarchs in Hebrew, Greek, Armenian, and Slavonic. These translations would not have been made unless the books had obtained a very wide vogue. If translation into different languages is any gauge of the popularity of a book, the Jewish Apocalypses must have been among the most popular books of the time.

The Contribution of Apocalyptic to Theology.—As we have already seen, the circumstances which created Apocalyptic naturally coloured its theological outlook, The contributions which it made to the thought of the time are in the main eschatological, though the eschatology in its turn reacted on the more fundamental conceptions of religion—e.g. the doctrine of God. We may summarise the chief theological influences of these writings as follows:

(1) Apocalyptic accentuated dualism in religious thought. The general impression which we gain from studying the literature is well summed up in the words of one of the writers: "The Lord God made not one world but two." There are two opposed universes—the universe of righteousness under the rule of God, the universe of sin under the lordship of Satan.

(2) It tended to widen the gulf between God and the world. As C. A. Scott says: "The tendency from the time of Isaiah onwards had been towards a conception of God as removed and ever further removed from contact with the things of earth and from immediate intercourse with men. This becomes very marked in Apocalyptic literature, and one of its indications is the development in this period of a doctrine of angels, an order of created but superhuman beings who were regarded as mediators of intercourse between God and man." The frequent allusion, for instance, to hierarchies of angels in the NT is very largely due to the influence of Apocalyptic.

(3) It developed the doctrine of the future life. The germ of the belief in immortality is found in the OT, but the development of the doctrine into a definite article of faith was the work of Apocalyptic. The first unmistakable reference is found in the Book of Daniel: "And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt" (Revelation 12:2). There are varying and divergent conceptions of the future life in the different Apocalypses. Sometimes the resurrection takes place on the plane of earth in a kind of millennial Paradise, sometimes on the plane of heaven. Sometimes a bodily resurrection is assumed, sometimes a spiritual. In some writings the resurrection is universal, and includes the wicked as well as the righteous; in others there is only a resurrection of the good.

(4) It gave definite shape and form to the belief in heaven and hell. In the OT the picture of the unseen world is dim and shadowy. Apocalyptic filled in the details and made it a real place with special localities for different classes of spirits. The description of the "seven heavens" in the Book of the Secrets of Enoch and the Ascension of Isaiah, and of the "three heavens" in the Testaments of the Patriarchs, coloured the thought of the NT, and passed from the NT into the poetry of Dante and Milton.

(5) It attempted to find a solution for the problem of the origin of evil. The introduction of sin into the world is generally attributed to the fall of Adam. "The first Adam transgressed," says the author of 4 Ezra, "and was overcome, and so be all they that are born of him." There can be little doubt that the doctrine of original sin, which is not found in the OT, was really the creation of the Apocalyptists. There were some protests, of course. The Apocalypse of Baruch, as we have seen, challenged the doctrine, and maintained that "every man is the Adam of his own soul." There was an alternative suggestion, too, which is found in several Apocalypses, that sin was introduced into the world through the angels, who transgressed with the daughters of men. The basis of this theory is the narrative in Genesis 6:1-4*.

(6) Apocalyptic developed the belief in the advent of a Messiah. The wonderful description of the "Son of Man" in the Book of Enoch has already been mentioned. We have seen, too, how the Ascension of Isaiah, probably under Christian influences, describes the descent of "the Beloved" (a technical title for the Messiah) from the seventh heaven. The Apocalypse of Baruch foretells the destruction of the Roman Empire through the advent of the Messiah. The Psalms of Solomon portray the advent of the "Son of David" and the "Lord Christ" to save his people from the tyranny of the Roman Empire, and 4 Ezra speaks of the coming of a Messiah who will reign for four hundred years and set up the kingdom of heaven upon earth. The conception, however, is not uniform. Sometimes, as in the Book of Enoch, the Messiah is a transcendent Divine being; in other writings—the Psalms of Solomon, for instance—he is merely an earthly ruler of supreme dignity and power.

(7) The conception of "the kingdom of God," which in the teaching of the prophets was mainly political and ethical, became in the hands of the Apocalyptists entirely eschatological. "The kingdom" is to be set up by Divine intervention at the end of time, and its advent is always closely connected with the Day of Judgment.

(8) Apocalyptic created the conception of the final judgment. As Prof. Burkitt has recently said: "The doctrine of a future general assize held no place in the Grco-Roman world apart from the belief of Jews and Christians. Possibly the belief may have been fostered by the influence of Zoroastrianism, but it is difficult in that case to explain why the doctrine is not found in Mithraism, which came far more under the spell of Zoroastrianism than did Judaism." "The doctrine of the last judgment required a very special set of circumstances for its development," and those circumstances are found in the history of Judaism in the centuries before and after the commencement of the Christian era.

The Permanent Value of Apocalyptic.—We may commence by quoting the excellent statement of Prof. Burkitt. The Jewish Apocalypses "are the most characteristic survival of what I will venture to call, with all its narrowness and incoherence, the heroic age of Jewish history, the age in which the nation attempted to realise in action the part of the peculiar people of God. It ended in catastrophe, but the nation left two successors, the Christian Church and the rabbinical schools, each of which carried on some of the old national aims. And of the two it was the Christian Church that was most faithful to the ideas enshrined in the Apocalypses." The exterior forms and the weird figures and symbols of Apocalyptic were abandoned, of course, except in the Book of Revelation, but the spiritual substance of apocalyptic faith was incorporated in the doctrine of Christianity. Let us briefly note what are the elements of abiding value in Apocalyptic.

(1) The first and fundamental article in the faith of the Apocalyptists is that history is teleological. There is a great Divine purpose being worked out in the world-movements of the time. Things do not happen by accident, and history will not end in chaos. There is always the "great far-off divine event towards which the whole creation moves"—the final dénouement of the drama.

(2) But there are two ways of writing a Utopia. There is the Greek way, which is also the English way, that sees Utopia realised in the slow and steady improvement of human society; and there is the Jewish way, which says that Utopia can only be realised by a great act of Divine intervention. Both views are right and both are wrong. The Greek way is wrong because it ignores the action of God; the Jewish way is wrong because it thinks that God can work only through a cataclysm. The true view lies in the union of the Greek and Jewish conceptions. Utopia is the realisation of the perfect will of God worked out in history.

(3) Apocalyptic lifted man's vision from the world that is seen to the world that is unseen. "It called into being a new world to redress the balance of the old." Pushed to extremes, of course, Apocalyptic issues in the form of "other-worldliness," which was so strongly and so justly reprobated by George Eliot. But, stated sanely, the doctrine of the Apocalyptists seems essential to a vital faith. The conception of the "seven heavens" may have been a fantastic dream, but a dream is sometimes better than nothing at all. In the stern times in which the Apocalypses were written, the faith of men could not have been kept alive by a vague and dim phantom-heaven. The Apocalyptists created, largely out of their imagination of course, a heaven that seemed real to them, and the picture of that heaven made men heroes in the fight for faith.

Such are some of the ideas—and they were undoubtedly created and developed by Apocalyptic—which possess abiding value for Christianity.

Literature.—The Oxford Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha (1913), edited by Dr. Charles, contains a translation of all the Jewish documents with introductions and notes. This book has now superseded the German collection which was edited by Kautzsch. Separate editions of most of the Apocalypses—e.g. the Book of Enoch, the Assumption of Moses, the Ascension of Isaiah, the Book of Jubilees, and the Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs (with fuller and more detailed introductions and notes)—have been published by Charles. Other sources of information are the articles in the Bible dictionaries, especially HDB and EBi; H. T. Andrews, The Apocryphal Books (Cent. B. Handbooks); Porter, The Messages of the Apocalyptic Writers; Charles, A Critical History of the Doctrine of a Future Life; Burkitt, Jewish and Christian Apocalypses; Ryle and James, The Psalms of Solomon; Box, The Fourth Book of Ezra; Oesterley, Introduction to the Apocrypha.

 


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Bibliography Information
Peake, Arthur. "Commentary on Revelation:4 Overview". "Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible ". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/pfc/revelation-0.html. 1919.

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