I have always imagined that Paradise would be a kind of library.
Jorge Luis Borges

So have I become your enemy by telling you the truth?
Saint John, Letter to Galatians 4:16

Freedom of Religion - Freedom from Religion - Freedom of Public Display of Religion and Traditions

We establish no religion in this country, nor will we ever. We command no worship. We mandate no belief. But we poison our society when we remove its theological underpinnings. We court corruption when we leave it bereft of belief. All are free to believe or not believe; all are free to practice a faith or not. But those who believe must be free to speak of and act on their belief.
Ronald Reagan (Temple Hillel Speech, 1984)

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Chapter 21: Book of Revelation

Book of Revelation

CHAPTER 1, Verses 1-10 - The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him, to shew unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass; and he sent and signified it by his angel unto his servant John [1] who bare record of the word of God, and of the testimony of Jesus Christ, and of all things that he saw. [2] Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written therein: for the time is at hand. [3] John to the seven churches which are in Asia: Grace be unto you, and peace, from his which is, and which was, and which is to come; and from the seven Spirits which are before his throne; [4] And from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, and the first begotten of the dead, and the prince of the kings of the earth. Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood, [5] And hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father; to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen. [6] Behold, he cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see him, and they also which pierced him: and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of him. Even so, Amen. [7] I am the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending, saith the Lord, which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty. [8] I john, who also am your brother, and companion in tribulation, and in the kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ, was in the isle that is called Patmos, for the word of God, and for the testimony of Jesus Christ. [9] I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and heard behind me a great voice, as of a trumpet, [10] Saying, I am Alpha and Omega, the first and the last: and, What thou seest, write in a book, and send it unto the seven churches which are in Asia; unto Ephesus, and unto Smyrna, and unto Pergamos, and unto Thyatira, and unto Sardis, and unto Philadelphia, and unto Laodicea.

The Book of Revelation, often referred to as the Apocalypse, is the final book of the New Testament, a central theme in Christian eschatology. It is believed to have been written between 60 AD and 95 AD. It was written to describe prophetic visions which the author claimed to have seen, which ends with the foretelling of the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.
Arguments continue as to whether John the Apostle or John of Patmos wrote it.  Whoever wrote it, the original had no title, so a title was bestowed upon it from the first word of the book in Greek which translates to “unveiling” or “revelation”. The author merely identifies himself as John, thus scholars refer to him as John of Patmos. Justin Martyr, an early 2nd century writer, was the first to identify the author of Revelation as  John the Apostle, sometimes called John the Evangelist. Even that is an argument amongst scholars as the Apostle and Evangelist being two separate people.
  John the Apostle was presumably exiled to the island of Patmos towards the end of his life, located on the Aegean Sea when the Roman emperor Domitian was persecuting Christians. In Pliny’s Natural History  4.69-70 and Annals  4.30 by Tacitus:
Early tradition says that John was banished to Patmos by the Roman authorities. This tradition is credible because banishment was a common punishment used during the imperial period for a number of offenses. Among such offenses were the practices of magic and astrology. Prophecy was viewed by the Romans as belonging to the same category, whether Pagan, Jewish, or Christian. Prophecy with political implications, like that expressed by John in the Book of Revelation, would have been perceived as a threat to Roman political power and order. Three of the islands in the Sporades were places where political offenders were banished. 
Eusebius (263-339) agreed to include the Apocalypse (Revelation) in the Canon, but pointed out the difference in writing style and skill between the Gospel of John (Apostle) and the John (Patmos) of Revelation.
Recent theory, especially after the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Gospel of Judas suggest that John the Apostle, John the Evangelist, and John of Patmos were three separate individuals.  It has also been theorized that the gist of the book in chapters 4 through 22 are the prophecies of John the Baptist.
The Book of Revelation was the last book to be accepted into Christian canon, 100 years after the other books. It was accepted at the Council of Carthage of 397 and officially added at a later council of 419. Throughout the history of the Church, however, the book raised doubts about its authorship and authenticity beginning in the 2nd century. Christians in Syria during that time rejected the book, but mainstream Church officials viewed it as heresy.  Some scholars, like Merrill Unger, argue that in spite of the controversy, Revelation provides a logical conclusion to the New Testament canon.
From the Greek Septuagint, John of Patmos makes 348 indirect quotes from 24 of the canonized books of the Hebrew Bible, mostly from Isaiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, and Psalms. For example, the beast described in the Book of Revelation combines the physical traits of all four beasts mentioned in Daniel, Chapter 7. The four horsemen come from Zechariah 6:1-8; the edible scroll that tastes as sweet as honey comes from Ezekiel 2:8 & 3-2; and the marking of the people on the forehead to determine who will be cursed and who will be spared comes from Ezekiel 9:3-6.
The original Revelation was written in Greek (Koine Greek), the Greek used in 1st century Palestine; however, the errors in Greek demonstrates that the writer’s original language was not Greek. Some believe that the original was written in Aramaic. 
Revelation consists of four sections of four different visions, where John of Patmos sees visions of what God reveals to him and is concluded with an epilogue. Seven is a mystical number: seven churches, seven seals, seven trumpets, and the seven bowls - all judgments.  There are 24 instances of using the number seven, which is a number considered to be a number of perfection of Christianity. 
One half of the number seven is also consistently used in Revelation: two witnesses are given power to prophesy for 3.5 years; witnesses are killed and their dead bodies lie in the streets of Jerusalem for 3.5 days; the “woman clothed with the sun” is protected in the wilderness for 3.5 years; and Gentiles walk the holy city for 3.5 years.
Beyond prophecy, the main theme of Revelation is the battle between good (God) and evil (Satan/Lucifer). The series of events described culminate into the final defeat of evil and the establishment of a New Jerusalem; and because of this and other footprints of the author, it is believed the author was a Jewish Christian. 
The seven original churches of Asia play an important part of Revelation prophecy:
Ephesus  -  From this church, those “who overcome are granted to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God (2:1-7).
Smyrna - From this church, those who are faithful until death, will be given “the crown of life”. Those who overcome shall not be hurt by the second death. (2:8-11).
Pergamum - From this church, those who overcome will be given the hidden manna to eat and a white stone with a secret name on it. (2:12-17)
Thyatira - From this church, those who overcome until the end, will be given power over the nations in order to dash them to pieces with the rule of a rod of iron; they will also be given the “morning star”.  (2:18-29)
Sardis - From this church, those who overcome will be clothed in white garments, and their names will not be blotted out from the Book of Life; their names will also be confessed before the Father and his angels. (3:1-6)
Philadelphia - From this church, those who overcome will be made a pillar in the temple of God having the name of God, the name of the city of God, “New Jerusalem” and the Son of God’s new name. (3:7-13)
Laodicea - From this church, those who overcome will be granted the opportunity to sit with the Son of God on His throne. (3:14-22)
The Seven Seals when they are opened:
First Seal - A white horse appears, whose crowned rider has a bow with which to conquer. (6:1-2)
Second Seal - A red horse appears, whose rider is granted a “great sword” to take peace from the earth. (6:3-4)
Third Seal - A black horse appears, whose rider has “a pair of balances in his hand”, where a voice then says, “A measure of wheat for a penny, and three measures of barley for a penny; and see thou hurt not the oil and the wine.” (6:5-6)
Fourth Seal - A pale horse appears, whose rider is Death, and Hades follow him. Death was granted a fourth part of the earth, to kill with sword, with hunger, with death, and with the beasts of the earth. (6:7-8)
Fifth Seal - “Under the Altar”, appeared the souls of martyrs for the “word of God”, who cry out for vengeance. They are given white robes and told to rest until the martyrdom of their brothers is completed. (6:9-11)
Sixth Seal - (6:12-17) - There occurs a great earthquake where “the sun becomes black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon like blood; the stars of heaven fall to the earth and the sky recedes like a scroll being rolled up; every mountain and island is moved out of place; the people of earth retreat to caves in the mountains; the survivors call upon the mountains and the rocks to fall on them, so as to hide them from the “wrath of the Lamb”.
Seventh Seal - Introduction of the seven trumpets (8:1-5) - “Silence in heaven for about half an hour”; seven angels are each given trumpets; an eighth angel takes a “golden censer”, filled with fire from the heavenly altar, and throws it to the earth.. “Peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning, and an earthquake” follow; after the eighth angel has devastated the earth, the seven angels prepare to sound their trumpets.
The seven trumpets also are the gist of the revelation and they are sounded:
First Trumpet - Hail and fire, mingled with blood, are thrown to the earth burning one third of the trees and green grass. (8:6-7)
Second Trumpet - A great mountain burns with fire and falls from the sky and falls in the ocean. It kills one third of the sea creatures and destroys one third of the ships at sea. (8:8-9)
Third Trumpet - A great star named Wormwood, falls from heaven and poisons one third of the rivers and springs of water. (8:10-11)
Fourth Trumpet - A third of the sun, moon, and stars are darkened can create complete darkness for one third of the day and night. (8:12-13)
Fifth Trumpet - A star falls from the sky and given “the key to the bottomless pit”. The star then opens the bottomless pit and smoke rises from the Abyss like smoke from a gigantic furnace. The sun and sky are darkened by the smoke of the Abyss and from out of the smoke locusts appear who are “given power like that of scorpions of the earth”, who are commanded not to harm anyone except for people who were not given the “seal of God” on their foreheads. The locusts are described as having a human appearance with faces and hair, but with lion’s teeth and wearing “breastplates of iron”; the sound of their wings resembles “the thunderings of many horses and chariots rushing into battle. (9:1-12)
Sixth Trumpet - Four angels proceed to the great river Euphrates to prepare two hundred million horsemen. The armies kill one third of mankind with three plagues: fire, smoke, and brimstone.
Seventh Trumpet - The temple of God opens in heaven, where the ark of the covenant can be seen. There are lightnings, noises, thunderings, an earthquake, and  large hailstones.
  The Book of Revelation is the only book of the New Testament  that is not read by the Eastern Orthodox Church, while the entire book is read during Apocalypse Night (Bright Saturday) by the Coptic Orthodox Church six days after Pascha.
  Christian Gnostics are not in agreement with the text of Revelation because the doctrine of salvation through sacrifice is against their doctrinal interpretations of scripture because they “believe in the Forgiveness of Sins, but it no vicarious sacrifice for sin ... they accepted Christ in the full realization of the word; his life , not his death, was the keynote of their doctrine and their practice.” 
Every 1,000 years after Christ’s death, Christians tend to believe that the time of Revelation to be physically revealed comes near. During times of great tribulation and disaster, like the Great Depression of the 1930s also brings about the concept that the end foretold in Revelation will come full circle. Christians believe it and fear it despite the promise that believers/followers of Christ will be redeemed; while those who do not, evil doers, will suffer the consequences described. Yet, it is not differentiated between believers and non-believers when it comes to the terrible disasters that befall humanity according to the prophecies of Revelation.
During the medieval age, appropriately called the Dark Age, doom hung over the populace of Christendom and the general idea was that humanity must suffer on earth like Christ in his last hours in order to be redeemed and be rewarded in the afterlife. To suffer was to be pious. Revelation was the prophecy for vengeance for those who suffered and died because they are Christians.
When Thomas Jefferson created his Jefferson Bible, he omitted most of the Biblical canon, which included the Book of Revelation. He even wrote once that he considered Revelation as “merely the ravings of a maniac, no more worthy nor capable of explanation than the incoherences of our own nightly dreams.” 
  Christ’s words in the gospels do not reveal such a dark outlook; but instead preaches and teaches    hope and how to attain the reward in the afterlife; which gives another testament that Revelation could not have been written by John the Apostle, but a troubled man from the island of Patmos. The author borrows much from the Old Testament, rearranging much of what is written in the Book of Ezekiel.
If John the Apostle had written Revelation, he would have been well past the age of 90, some speculate 92. Second century Christian writers, like Papias of Hierapolis, affirm that there were two persons named John in the early Church and it is clear that the John who wrote the Gospel of John is not the same author who wrote Revelation. Toward the end of the first century, in the city of Ephesus, lived a Christian teacher named John, who became famous among the churches of Asia Minor.
Biblical scholars, like Elaine Pagels reveals much of these questions in her book entitled Revelations: Visions, Prophecy & Politics in the Book of Revelation. The book revolves around the question: What does Revelation mean?
In conclusion, I traveled about Asia Minor while serving at NATO LSE HQ for 4.5 years, seeking the sites of those original seven churches and studied their histories, the opportunity to examine translated works; and I agree with the notable biblical scholars, like Elaine Pagels,  that the background and the style of writing does not match that of the confirmed writing of John the Apostle. Thus, I also agree with the early Christians who protested that the Book of Revelation be added to the canon of the New Testament based upon the evidence that it is not apostolic, it plagiarizes books of the Old Testament and the author did not reveal that he got his “visions” from the Hebrew books of prophecy;  and it counters the gist of Christ’s teachings and philosophy; which that in itself should condemn it from being canonized and taken seriously.

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