The Book of Revelation: Its Meaning and Significance and Rightful Place in the Orthodox New Testament

Fourth Edition

Neon Orthodox Cross

Μια Εκκληση Στις Ελληνικές

Ορθόδοξες Χριστιανικές Αρχές

by Mark Mountjoy

 

Introductory Remarks

Orthodox Christians and the family of churches that are the descendents of the glorious Byzantine Empire do not now see how the Book of Revelation pertained to the course of early, middle or late Roman imperial history—or any particular history at all.  And, the truth be told, the reality of this non-correspondence is both up close and personal to these Christians because, by the grace and will of God, they and they alone became the heirs and custodians of the Roman Empire, but they never saw the empire, before or under their watch, incur the dangers or receive the beatific promises described so vividly in the Book of Revelation.

Neither when they examined the sayings of the Apostle John did they see any apparent order and harmony in the signs, symbols or visions of the Book of Revelation but, focusing on the early or later Roman history and failing to perceive the inner logic of this one book, does not automatically mean their search for verity was in the right direction or that it was even thorough enough, I believe a strong case can be made to Orthodox Christians that the Book of Revelation is very much a legitimate part of the Orthodox New Testament and that, furthermore, it should be an integral part of both Orthodox theology and the Lord’s Day Sunday Orthros Liturgy.

This journey of discovery starts with bold claims of Christ and then, in the Book of Revelation (traditionally) the teaching inclination wants to wade into speculation and uncertainty.1  The antidote to this, we believe, is to hold on to the bold claims of the Son of God and carry them all the way through to the end of the Book of Revelation, where the beauty, harmony and clarity of the apocalyptic situation will easily be seen and appreciated for what it means and says to, for and about the Son of God and the preservation of his Church, the new people of God.

Bold Claims as a Sure Foundation in the Rest of the Bible

In order to see the Book of Revelation with brand new eyes, we can only appreciate what it stands for by knowing how this  unique texts relates to the rest of the Bible (for example, the number 666 is related to the 666 talents of gold that king Solomon had - 3 Kingdoms 10:14); the last battle of the ancient and historic Jewish State was described in Ezekiel 38-39, and Daniel chapters 2, 7, 9, 11 and 12 outline the absolute course of Jewish salvation history to the time of the end of Jewish wars.

Furthermore, 1 Maccabees 13:41-422 announces Jewish independence from the yoke of the Gentiles under the royal Hasmonean banner, and 2 Maccabees 5:1-43 shows that the armies of the Lord intervened to help the Jews in their struggle against the Seleucids. 

Tobit 1:174 and Revelation 11:8-9 shows the complete moral reversal Jewry had experienced during the Great A.D.66-70 Sedition which saw first century Jerusalem's tragic and sudden demise. 

But Matthew 11:16-19; 12:43-45 and Luke 23:27-31 limit the reach of apocalyptic activities to the lifetime of the contemporaries of Jesus and their children, 1 Corinthians 1:6-9; 1 Thessalonians 5:1-4 and 5:23-24, 1 John 2:19-20 and Jude 14 inform us that all Christians everywhere were expecting the Second Coming of our Lord to materialize in their first century lifetime.

In other texts, passages and chapters we learn how the Book of Revelation relates to the Synoptics and John in respect to the forfeiture of the kingdom of God, the coming of the Son of man in the glory of his Father, with his angels in the lifetime of those who stood there at Caesarea Philippi and a great condemnation was to come upon the cities of Israel who refused to be moved by Jesus' mighty works and miracles and, lastly, trouble against believers would ensue in the syngogues where Christians would be killed in the name of doing service for God (Matthew 21:33-45; Mark 8:38-9:1, Luke 10:8-15 and John 16:1-2).

How the Book of Revelation relates to the Acts of the Apostles (Jerusalem, Judaea and the Diaspora).  The eschaton was announced as being initiated by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost, see Acts 2:14-21; 2:40; 3:19-26; 4:12; Jews of Asia and elsewhere thought they heard Stephen speak blasphemy when he declared that Jesus would destroy the Second Temple and change the customs of Moses, Acts 6:11-15; Jerusalem's traditional trajectory of rebellion and murder continued with the death of St. Stephen, Acts 7:48-59; 9:1-2; the new people of God was named, not by Romans, but by God himself, Acts 11:26;5 and unbelievable mighty works were to unfold in the days of the cynical Jewish leadership Acts 13:40-41; 

How the Book of Revelation relates to the epistles of the Apostle Paul (Romans through Titus) by Paul's expectations around sharp demographic drops in the Jewish world population (Romans 9:27-29, around Jewish scandelous misconduct in the innermost sanctum of the Second Temple, 2 Thessalonians 2:3-12, and his confidence that the Lord's return would not take the Thessaloans believers by surprise (1 Thessalonians 5:1-4).

How the Book of Revelation relates to the Judean epistles (Hebrews through Jude) by the way these epistles treat the Second Coming like it was just around the corner and not very far away - Hebrews 10:25 and 37; James 5:1-9; 1 Peter 4:7; 2 Peter 3:12, 13, and 14; 1 John 2:18 and Jude 14.

Now, just as the Holy Gospels detail Jerusalem’s comeuppance and make it crystal clear: Matthew 23:29-39; Luke 9:31; 11:45-51 and John 15:22-25, the Book of Revelation also does not waiver to the left or to the right in this regard (see Revelation 11:8; 17:5; 18:20-24 and 19:1-4).6

Jesus repeatedly emphasizes a very certain generation when he says, “This generation.” “This generation” is a very certain thing.7

The sequence of the four kingdoms and the coming of the promised kingdom of God is a very certain prophecy “. . .and the dream is certain, and the interpretation thereof sure” (Daniel 2:45).8

Existence of the Second Temple and the Destruction of the Second Temple are a very real and definite thing.9FadedGlory

Abomination of Desolation, spoken of by the Prophet Daniel is a very real and certain thing happening at a very certain place.10

The coming of the Son of man in the clouds of heaven. Coming in the clouds is a very certain thing.11

The books opened at the end of the fourth kingdom. The number four is a very certain event meant to happen in very certain circumstances.12

Conflict between the church and the synagogues and claiming to be a Jew is a very certain race; a synagogue is a very certain place of worship, not to be confused with religious spaces preferred by the Romans.13

Temple tyrany and Blood bathThe occupation and the grisly tyranny of the Second Temple in the center of Jerusalem for 42 months is a very certain behavior, happening in a very certain space in a certain time and a very certain location.14

Christians and others being killed for not worshipping the image of the beast or accepting his mark, name or number is a very certain thing.15

Drinking/ drowning in blood is a very certain fate and this only happened to one people in history: the Jews, in the Jordan river, in the Dead Sea and along the eastern Mediterranean coasts during the lead-up to the Destruction of Jerusalem Wars of the Jews 3.10.9:522-531.16

Furthermore, Jerusalem's being hit with one hundred pound stones happened at a very certain time.17catapult And the Jewish capital's being recompensed for killing the holy prophets, apostles and saints is a definite crime committed by the first people of God (and this completely exonerates, eliminates and excludes the Romans).18

Having one's troops and warriors die on the battlefield, having fledgling armies beat and deprived of all hopes of victory is a very definite outcome (and, by the way, one not shared by the victorious Romans, who won victory after victory from the first, second, third and fourth centuries—all the way into the late Byzantine era).19  And so, Revelation 19:9-21 is a very definite thing and has no corrollary or relationship with the downfall of armies of early, medieval or late Roman history in any way, shape or form.

First, the four verses contained in Revelation 20:1-4 have an initial situation or set of circumstances which are very, very clear: The conditions are the rise of the seven headed Sea Beast; his forty-two month reign of terror; the ordination of his image, mark, name and number and his compelling those under his power to submit to his scratch (Revelation 13:1, 5, 13-18 and 14:9-12).  Ths state of affairs do not date back to the time of our Lord's earthly ministry; nor do they relate to any known actions of Nero or any other Roman Emperor, but the closest we come to anything that resembles this is when Josephus speaks of soldiers having their “right hands debilitated by the reverence they bare to their general in this his fatal calamities.”   It makes sense that the Jewish general Simon Bar Giora is probably the leader Josephus has in mind, because it would defy all logic to think the Jews would brand themselves with the name of Nero while their struggle, at the very same time, was against Nero and the Roman Empire! 

Second, it cannot go back any further in history than circumstances as they stood in Judæa in A.D.66.  So A.D.66 is the earliest it can go.

Third, what happened to the Christians is a very definite thing:  they were beheaded because they refused to participate in Jewish nationalism by worshiping the beast or receiving his image, name, mark or number on their right hands or foreheads.  By refusing these blasphemies Christ was very clear that this refusal was “the patience and faith of the saints” (Revelation 14:9-12).   And so, these first Christians, by refusing to assist the Jews in their ill-conceived rebellion against the Romans, are suddenly  seen in Revelation 15:1-2 walking on a holy sea of glass and fire, already dispatched by the beast from this earthly life.  Revelation 20 thus speaks about THEIR reign and priesthood with Christ in the aftermath of the Destruction of Jerusalem.

Fourth, the binding and loosing of Satan is a very definite thing: Six Koine Greek words—ἐκράτησενἔδησεν, ἔβαλεν, ἔκλεισεν, ἐσφράγισεν and φυλακῆς describe what happened to him after the failure and disaster of the A.D.66-70 Jewish war debacle.

Fifth, the end of the Second Jewish Commonwealth (and not the Roman Empire) is the subject, focus and aim of the Book of Revelation and the Koine Greek terms that are repeatedly used to represent how near that was to the lifetime of the first Christians is reflected in the following words: ἀποκάλυψις, ἐγγύς, ἐπιφάνεια, ἐπισκοπή, εὐθέως, μέλλω, παρουσία, προσδοκάω, σπεύδω and ταχέως.20 What would happen if Orthodox authorities—deans, philologists, theologians and priests, deacons and academics—looked over the entire New Testament, again, but now in light of the imminent end of the Second Jewish Commonwealth?  What contributions, now unfathomable and untold, could they contribute better than almost anyone else?

The New Testament is Truer Than We Ever Believed It Was

Above we have made our case that definite things Jesus said are the key to signs, symbols and prophecies in the Book of Revelation and these, from start to finish, have to do with the end, annulment and termination of the Second Jewish Commonwealth (its Temple, capital city, and the majority of its people).  No confusion can arise if we hold what Jesus said together with what John describes as the upending of that milieu.  Therefore, no reason exists to reject and eject such an ending from the New Testament on the grounds that such things never materialized in history—when the very opposite is true, therefore, my dear Christian friends—patriarchs, priests, deacons, monastics and all the Orthodox people of God—the weight, significance and seriousness of John's warning to us in Revelation 22:18-19 should be reread, reflected upon and, by every means possible, heeded,

“For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book:

And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.”

This warning from John is not about forgeries only, but also about any omission and alteration that a man might be tempted to try.  Now, shall we tempt Christ when so plain a case can be made for the verity of the Book of Revelation when viewed side by side with the tragic misfortunes of the Jews and the disappointment of their carnal messianic hopes in the seven decades which saw the conclusion of their proud civilization’s age?  To use the Hebrew writer’s phraseology, How shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?  How shall we be guiltless if we put asunder what God hath joined together?  How will we be acquited if we reject the testimony of the victory of the Son of God against his enemies who were determined that "We shall not have this man reign over us"?21

The Book of Revelation, then, is a fitting end to the New Testament because it testifies of the One who conquered death by death (Revelation 1:18).  It is an appropriate end because it shows the power of the Son of God to open what no man can shut and to shut what no man can open (Revelation 3:7).  God shut the door on animal sacrifices, the operation of the ministries and services of the Levitical Priesthood and the Second Temple from which these sacred duties occured and shall any Christian presume that this is not a confirmation of the importance of the Son of God and the Cross, and the Gospel and the Church?

Revelation is a fitting end because it shows the combined hubris and audacity of the Jewish freedom fighters who believed, erroneously, that they could be men behaving badly and still seize the promised kingdom of God by force (they were wrong).

The Book of Revelation is a fitting end to the New Testament because it shows that the Jerusalem Aristocracy actually did not believe (up to the very eve of the Destruction) that she would see sorrow.  Instead, after thirty-seven years of the Apostles' preaching in Jerusalem, in Judæa and in Samaria and the Diaspora, she said within her heart:-

“I sit a queen and am no widow

and shall see no sorrow”

(Revelation 18:7)

And yet, though she was a queen, she was a queen after the order of Vashti, who refused to come to the royal banquet at the behest of King Xerxes I and was, because of her rebellion, rejected (Esther 1:12-19).  Even so, Jerusalem was invited to the wedding of the Son of God and she, similarly, refused to attend (Matthew 22:1-7).  She also claimed that she was no widow, though she really was for she had surely killed her own husband when she betrayed Christ to be crucified by the Romans saying,

“We have no king, but Caesar!”

(John 19:15)

And finally, this Babylon claimed, “I shall see no sorrow”?  Well, when she said this she was out of touch, for since four years prior she had seen famine, death and sorrow (all in her midst) but she believed she could negotiate with the Zealots, robbers and other freedom fighters and, somehow, eke out terms with the Romans in order to dial down hostilities, but she was entirely destroyed, to the foundations of the unhappy city.

The Book of Revelation is a fitting end to the New Testament because it shows the truth of Jesus' saying, “Put down thy sword, for he that lives by the sword shall die by the sword.” (Matthew 26:52). No better example of poetic justice can be found for this than in Revelation chapter 19:19-21 post the Destruction of Jerusalem.  There the Zealots, Sicarii and bandits, having orchestrated the deadly destruction of their own sacred Temple and the ruin of their famous city, still have not put down their weapons of choice: The sword—a sword which they will use against each other, killing by murder and suicide 960 people who instigated the Jewish revolt in the first place (Wars of the Jews 7.8.7:383-388). 

And so, lifting up those weapons again, they killed themselves with their own swords, as if they did it by the unbending will of Providence, the First Story of the Jews attempt to end Roman rule in the Holy Land came to an unglorious and ignominious end.  And so, in this way and on this account Jesus defeated of his mortal foes in the Holy Land and this A.D. 73 event directly presaged the capture and incarceration of mankind’s ancientest foe, Satan.

The Aftermath of the Destruction

of Jerusalem and Masada

The Book of Revelation is a fitting end to the New Testament because it shows how God so loved the Jewish world that he even gave it a second chance to think about his Son, Jesus (as the Isaiah chapter 53 savior) in the light of what had only recently happened to them: the Temple was destroyed, the city was no more and multiplied thousands were carried away captive into various nations of the Roman Empire. 

Now what would they do?  Would they kiss the Son, or would they risk rebelling yet again?  As time passed by and and as reality sank in, the people began to size up their terrific losses, losses not only of houses, lands and effects, but also of loved ones, friends and acquaintances.  Yet did not the majority of their hearts turn to the Lord, but they turned away from him and hoped against hope for the same kingdom vision they had only recently been denied.

Sixth, the Second, final coming of the Lord (as it is predicted in Daniel 7:7-27) involves the opening of the books, not for everyone ever born till the end of time, but all the civilizations, cities and cultures up to the end of the Jewish State near the middle of the second century of the Christian era, and this and this only is the significance of the explosive events which happened after Satan was loosed in Revelation 20:7-15. 

Seventh, this meant that they were committed to protesting and clamoring for a king and a country, the circumcision of their sons and a [Third] Temple with renewed priesthood for their animal sacrifices—or, in other words, all the Old Testament particulars that God, in his blood-purchased covenant of the new and living way, was done and over with.22  

The Book of Revelation, in Revelation 20:7-15 shows exactly where these efforts led and how God, in his holiness, righteousness and wisdom, condemned that evil, rebellious and wayward civilization with universal destruction with the terrifying lightning bolts of the seven thunders.23

Eighth and finally, Revelation chapters 21 and 22 describe the kingdom of heaven that God’s holy Son, through his judgment of the Jewish world A.D.66-136 established then, now and forevermore.  This city and country, whose builder and maker is God himself (Hebrews 11:10 cf. Revelation 21:14) is the goal of Gods work through his Son, and it was the reason he marshalled and destroyed all Jewish opposition to what he was doing at that important and critical crossroads of Jewish salvation history.24  The message of the Book of Revelation has Pastoral implications about the unsavory behavior of the Jews, but its message is a warning for Christian civilizations, too (as God is no respecter of persons).25 

Now, if in the past, God judged his people and was willing, because of their rebellion, to deprive them of their happiness and make them slaves of the early Romans, he has and will do the same to us if, for any reason, we turn to any others besides him for our help, salvation and preservation. 

And so, in the final analysis, we Christians need to be continually reminded of this and the Book of Revelation is a detailed account about how God, methodically and systematically humiliated his own people by bringing the glorious Second Jewish Commonwealth to an end, despite all their bravado, efforts and schemes to make the outcome of their messianic and Jewish territorial and spiritual aspirations a success, while detesting and rejecting Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God as their only Savior and hope (Acts 4:12).

 

Endnotes

1 An imperious uncertainty consists of Christians insisting to one another that the Book of Revelation absolutely cannot be interpreted.  We must refuse to believe God would mock or tease his people with promises he sincerely and graciously offers us in Revelation 1:3.  We must stop being cynical and faithless and put our total trust in God!

2 An independent Hasmonean Jewish State kingdom emerged from the crucible of the Maccabean revolt; this was the fourth kingdom of Bible prophecy, not the Roman Republic or the Roman Empire.

3 Chariots and troop of soldiers appeared over the skies of Jerusalem ahead of the Maccabee rebellion (234 years before A.D. 66), similarly the first century Jews and Christians expected the same phenomenon to happen again, but the only difference was this: How would such an omen be interpreted and what would such a spectacle represent?  Did these armies appear?  Josephus affirms that they did, but the rebels did not interpret these airborne troops as belonging to Jesus, but as God's troops coming to their rescue against the Romans.  See Wars of the Jews 6.5.3:297-299. 

 In Wars of the Jews 4.6.3:383 and many other instances  the seditious forbade the burial of anyone, which was completely against all Jewish sense of decency, probity and civility.

5 During the reign of the Emperor Claudius the disciples were called Christians, not as an insult from the Syrian Romans, but by the inspiration (χρηματίσαι) of the Holy Spirit.

6 Nowhere in the entire New Testament does any blame or recrimination adhere to the Romans for the deaths of the prophets, apostles and saints of God (Luke 11:50).

7  A generation can be up to a century of time and if we pay attention and recognize this is what this expression means, then it will revolutionize our study of the Gospels and lead us to expect some very unusual things were in store for Jesus' contemporaries (see Acts 13:41).

8 In this regard, Jesus' confrontation with the chief priests and Pharisees and his Parable of the Vineyard (Matthew 21:33-45) finds direct relevance to the question of who, in the first century, possessed the fourth kingdom of Bible prophecy?  If Jesus intimated that the kingdom of God would be taken away from the Jews that, in and of itself, means that the Romans definitely did not have it.

9 The existence and beauty of the Second Temple is the subject of Matthew 24:1-2, Mark 13:1-2 and Luke 21:5-6; this means it was a tangible facility at the time that Jesus Christ gave the Olivet Discourse speech to the Apostles.  But the abomination of desolation and the destruction of the Temple is also something the Lord was concerned the Apostle would recognize and not be involved with it (Matthew 24:15-20), but get away and avoid Jerusalem, at all costs.  The Book of Revelation, in chapter 11:1-2 and in more detail in Revelation 13:1-18 shows why the Apostles needed to remove themselves from the seditious center of the Jewish world once the rebels gained complete control of the city and its Temple.

10 The abomination of desolation had to happen not only in Jerusalem, but also in the Second Temple, according to the prophecies of Gabriel in Daniel 9:24-27, but the Book of Revelation was written while the Second Temple was still standing (Revelation 11:1-2)!  This means that the Book of Revelation was not written in the A.D.90s, but in the early A.D.60s, before the Jews revolted against the Romans.

11 The coming of the Son of man in the clouds of heaven is not a free-standing prophecy in the Word of God, but a promise connected to the judgment, destruction and demise of the fourth kindgom of Bible prophecy (See Daniel 7:7-27; Matthew 24:29-30 and Matthew 26:64).

12 The number 4 is an integer and is easy to fathom.  God tells us in Daniel 2:37-40 and Daniel 7:1-27 that four principalities will appear and precede the promised kingdom of God counting from Nebuchadnezzar's kingdom of Babylon.  If we understand this countdown from the perspective of Jewish salvation history that list will name Medes and Persians as the second kingdom, the Macedonians, Seleucids and Ptolemies as third kingdom and the Hasmoneans and the usurper Herodians as the custodians of the fourth kingdom after all the changes and revolutions in Jewish society settled.  And it was Herodian Judæa who first received the warnings of an impending judgment day (Matthew 3:7-12).

13 The text of Revelation 2:9 and 3:9 leaves no doubt that Jewish antagonists are active against the Church in the western regions of ancient Asia Minor, but this unabashed claim would have been muted if Jerusalem had already suffered defeat as long as a quarter of a century beforehand.

14 It is a historical fact that the Sicarii and the Zealots were able to overwhelm and expell the Romans and empty the Jerusalem environment of all traces of Roman authority for the very first time in 129 years.  And it was at this time that the Jews, for three years and six months (or 42 months) held sway, inflicting mass casualities amid unspeakable chaos and diabolical atrocities never seen or heard of before.

15 See Wars of the Jews 3.8.6:386.

16 The number of people killed in this way was 6,500.

17 Although the Jewish revolt broke out in A.D.66, the stoning of the city did not happen any earlier than April of the year 70 -Wars of the Jews 5.6.3:269-2730.  This means that there is a real passage of time between what happened in Revelation 11:1-2 and what happens in Revelation 16:15-21 and the events do not hopelessly and endlessly recapitulate and overlap.

18 This point goes back and reinforces what we already observed in note 5, above.

19 No Pax Romana, such as the Romans enjoyed from 27 B.C. to A.D. 180 could be possible if we are to imagine God confronted the Roman Empire with Seals, Trumpets and Bowls and Thunders right in the middle of such a peace, but on the other hand, the Romans overcame the Jews, not twice but thrice and any Roman civil wars that arose were quickly exstinguished.

20 These ten Koine Greek words are directly in the provinance of the Greek Orthodox Church and it would be a tragic shame if they, of all Christians, could not grasp and come to terms with what these words precisely mean in light of the then looming disappearance of the Second Jewish Commonwealth and the Jewish State.

21 Luke 19:13-15.

22 The Book of Hebrews is clear on God's desire to move on from the rudimentary principles of the Law to a new and better way and better promises contained in his New Testament to the House of Israel and the House of Judah, but Rabbi Akiva and Bar Kokhba and the senate and Sanhedrim of Israel, being unbelievers and rejectors of all that pertained to Jesus, were not privy to the implications of the New Testament against the empty claims and futile ambitions of the second century Jewish State.

23 As the sealing of the Seven Thunders indicated, they were delayed in the first century and only to be dispensed after a liminal period of mercy between the fall of Masada and the declaration of War initiated by Simon Bar Kokhba.

24 Once God had settled the turbulence of Jewish strivings to seize what belonged to the Son of God and not their own interpretative calculations and contrivances a parallel realm of salvation, which was built for the faithful saints of old and the new people of God, came down and sat on a high mountain.  Thus, the new heaven and earth is not a phenomenon that shall be, but a reality that already is, even as we speak.

25 Acts 10:34; Romans 11:22 and 2 Timothy 2:12 should remind Christians that if we step away from God and become enthralled by somebody else and become so impudent as to deny him as our only hope and resource, he will reject us just as sure as day follows night and night follows day.