Tuesday, August 31, 2010
Introduction to the Apocalypse
The book of the Apocalypse is by far the most enigmatic and least understood book of the New Testament. Through the 2,000 year history of our Orthodox Church many homilies have been preached on the New Testament, many commentaries written. These are what we rely on to keep our sober interpretation of scripture. However, the only book that is constantly giving opening its secrets is the Apocalypse. Even early saints such as St. Andrew of Caesarea acknowledged this fact stating that there are many things in this book that will not be known until the time is closer. This shows the Apocalypse is constantly revealing its secrets as we draw near to the end, therefore it is of the utmost importance that we study this books secrets very carefully.
This book is viewed as a book of doom. A horrifying account of the end of days but in reality this is a Gospel. The greatest of all Gospels, the Gospel of the second coming of our Lord God and Savior Jesus Christ. This is about as direct as we ever see Christ, telling us the truth in a way that seems somewhat terrifying. For instance In 3:15-16 Christ says: "I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish that you were cold or hot. So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of my mouth." Now the cold here is referring to a non-believer, who is able to change much easier than a lukewarm person, or someone who believes what they want Christianity to be as opposed to what it is. While the hot is referring to a fervent and zealous believer. Christ is saying that those who ride the fence, or choose to believe what they want, He will vomit them out. In Orthodoxy Communion is the center of worship where we consume the body and blood of Christ, to vomit this out in disgust would be an insult to Christ, a rejection of Him. Likewise Him vomiting us out is much like casting us into the outer darkness.
These sort of verses lead the reader to believe that Christ is full of anger and wrath waiting to pounce on the unbeliever. In truth, Christ is warning us. He is telling us the truth in a very direct fashion. We need to look at this book as a warning or forecast if you will. A forecast of the weather can be quite vague at times and left to interpretation, but it does tell us what the weather will be so that we know what to expect so that we may prepare for the rainy day, the blizzard, or the heat wave. Preparation is of the utmost importance. For instance in 3:20 "Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me." This may seem like a very simple verse to be taken as is. Christ does not say, if anyone hears My voice, and then leaves it at that. He says, "If anyone hears my voice and opens the door" clearly showing the need for action on the believers part, showing repentance in turning to Christ from sin. Christ coming in is a symbol of baptism. Christ coming in and dining with the believer is a symbol of communion. This is a call that every person able to receive the Gospel, hears, and chooses either to open the door and become a true believer or leave the door shut to worship Christ as they see fit or not to worship Him at all.
Also we are to use extreme caution in reading this book. Many heresies have come from people misunderstanding the prophecies within this book. Early in the churches history the idea of Chilliasm or Millenialism was introduced, and condemned at the Second Ecumenical Council. It is based off of Apoc. 20, in which it speaks of a 1,000 year reign. When taken literally people seem to think that Christ is going to come and reign for 1,000 years on the earth. When understood properly, especially with the interpretation of the early church fathers, we see that the reign is happening now! Christ is reigning with His saints in His church. The Orthodox have His body and His blood, and we become one with him everytime we receive communion. This millenialism is a heresy. Many point to its placement in scripture, citing that this, chronologically, should be written earlier in the book if it is pertaining to Christ reigning in the Church. But if we look at Apoc. 12 there is a peculiar account of the fall of satan, later in that chapter it speaks of how exactly he was cast out of heaven. To the un-learned reader, who should not be reading this book, this is an odd placement for this. While this is the account of lucifer, there also lay within another meaning which we shall discuss much later on in another commentary.
These commentaries will take some time, and I might not cover every verse but the ones I feel most important so that I may fit into the limited timeframe that I have.