The following draws HIGHLY upon the lectures of Dr. John Wesley Wright- Point Loma Nazarene University Professor of Theology and Christian Scriptures.
“For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” –Genesis 3:4 (NASB)
The Apocalypse is the completion to a story that begins in the first chapters of Genesis. It is the story of what God is and what Worship is; recognizing God as the Creator, not the created. The book of Revelation is operating on two levels, the first is on the level of surface narrative and the second is a deeper narrative structure that encapsulates the whole of the Christian scriptures. This deep structure, or fibula, is expressed as the repetition of Human idolatry and God’s Judgment, from the suffering saints to righteous vindication.
Genesis sets forth an image of God creating, speaking things into existence from nothingness. It was a story that called the people of Moses to turn from Baal and false idols of stone and worship the one true God as Creator. In Genesis chapter three the serpent tempts Eve with idolatry, she is tempted to be “like God.” It is this sin, idolatry, which is brought to an end in Revelation.
The Apocalypse is a story told so that it’s hearers may be blessed, because it reveals the way that the world really is, it shows that the worship of the power of the beast, of nothingness, is only a parody of the one who sits on the thrown, and the one who was and is and is to come will bring creation to it’s proper telos.
The narrative of Revelation is not dictated by chronology, but rather upon recapitulating tensive symbols. These symbols do not have a one to one correlation with and singular historical event or place, but rather are continually embodied in various ways in history. In the text these various symbols show their polyvalence and are interpreted within the webs of other symbols.
This narrative recapitulation is also present in Genesis. In Genesis one there is an account of creation, God speaking things into existence. Then in Genesis chapter 2 the story goes back to the beginning and tells the same account differently. The underpinnings of the story are the same, the primary actor is God, who creates the heavens and the earth, where humans and creatures are, then the story progresses from union with God, to Adam and Eve’s Idolatry. These narrative elements are presupposed within the text of the Apocalypse, along with the present suffering of the saints and most importantly the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The text is thus drawing upon the images in each of these of these other narratives in order to “reveal” the way that the world really is.
The Apocalypse begins by setting the locations of the story about to be unfolded, but also the timeframe it will take place in. A vision is given to John , into heaven and earth, during the time that God IS. The span of the Story is over God who was, and is and is to come; God thus is the timeframe of the narrative. This marks the Theocentric nature of the story, God is not at all a part of creation because God is defined by God’s ongoing action and existence. This again sets God apart from the creation that is idolized. The strong distinction made in the Apocalypse between the Saints and the world, is that though they are both creation the suffering saints worship the living God, through the living person of Jesus Christ. The text persistently forces the reader to identify with those who are suffering.
In the first four chapters the Story is set up, John is given this vision from God, Spoken through Jesus Christ and delivered by the Angel to the messenger, John. The lampstands are the seven spirits of God and when John turns towards them he falls down dead. The voice he hears is the voice of Jesus, the one who was once dead, but now is living because God in Jesus overcame death. John is now participating in that death, and will be resurrected in chapter four. This marks the story, which is repeated over and over again in the story. John is then given the role of writing down the message of the one speaking, to the churches. These images, including the “tree of life” show the continuity of this story with the story of Genesis. These letters show that the economy of the world, the power structures it sets up are predicated upon the worship of creation, thus those who follow Jesus are given over to suffering. Those who hear the text are blessed to know that the final victory of God in Christ will be for those who suffer in this present age. In Chapter 4 John is Resurrected and brought up into heaven where he witnesses the throne room of God, the one who was and is and is to come. There is eternal worship of God, and the one on the throne is motionless, and holding a scroll. The deep structure is the right direction of the creaturely worship, toward the one who sits on the throne.
In chapter 5 the images are intensified. John weeps at the question “Who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll?” John has more revealed to him as he is weeping; at the throne is a lamb and the lamb is able to open the scroll because he was slain.
Here the images shift and the story is told again differently. Now the seven spirits are now the seven horns and eyes of the lamb. The lamb now opens the first four seals and they are the four horsemen of the apocalypse. Each horseman is the same person, from a different angle. The one who comes to conquer on the white horse brings war, famine disease and death. Each one of these horsemen are parodies of the creatures around the throne, and the seals are things which are revealed in the world. The fifth seal allows John to seal the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God, which were under the altar. These are those who suffer from the conquest of the four horsemen and they cry out “how long oh Lord.” They are the fire under the altar to cook the sacrifice, when they are clothed in white it shows the contrast between them and the first white horseman. The next section again echoes back to Genesis, it marks the rolling up of creation. Now all those in power are the ones hiding,( like the ones under the altar) crying out “the attack of the killer slain lamb!” The irony here is palpable as John is revealing the way that the world really is, begging to be killed and hidden from a bloody dead lamb.
The inverse of these who are crying out for death, are those who are marked for salvation; Twelve twelve’s of God’s chosen people in white robes who have been made clean by the blood of the lamb. Again irony is present; the white robes are cleaned in red blood. After the final seventh seal is opened there is silence, rest that harkens back the seventh day of creation.
After this the symbols are again made over and the same story is replayed. Instead of seven seals there are now seven trumpets. An angel takes the prayers of God’s people from under the altar and hurled it to earth and there is thunder and lightning, audible responses to the prayers. The first four trumpets are not unlike the four horsemen; they bring destruction while again using imagery from genesis to describe the present suffering of the saints. The fifth angel sounded the trumpet and opened the abyss and gave the key to a fallen star (a part of creation.) The smoke that is rising out of the abyss is to be contrasted by the incents and flames coming from the altar of God. The incenses are the worship of the saints, while the smoke is the product of false worship, of idolatry. All of the coming violence comes out of this smoke. The one who is the ruler of the Abyss is a parody of the one on the throne, rather than ruling everything he rules, literally, nothingness, the nothingness from before creation.
The first to come out of this false worship are the locusts, they are a dreadful compellation of non-sense. The imagery is awkward and silly, first they locusts are like scorpion that sting, then they are flying miniature horses. The sixth trumpet is the destruction of a third of the worlds people, this connects back to the previous image of the mountain falling into the sea. Then horsemen come from the abyss, but these are the same as the locusts. After all of this the idolatry continues. In Chapter 10 the angel that comes down holding the scroll is Jesus, holding the scroll that was opened by the lamb earlier. The book is sweet to because it is the answer to those crying out from under the altar, but also bitter because it will bring judgment.
The seventh trumpet is the culmination of all that has come before, the kingdom of the world has now become one with the kingdom of God. The one sitting on the throne is “ the one who is and who was.” The absence of “and will be” means that we have come to the end of the story, and the coming symbols will again go back and retell the story of idolatry and of death and resurrection.
Chapter 12 opens in heaven and begins a new recapitulation. Here is the first time that we see the two signs. The first is a woman who is about to give birth, representing Hope and life, the other is a great red Dragon, which represents death and destruction. Here the Dragon is waiting to devour the hope which is about to be brought into the world, yet in a comedic failure the Dragon is not only unable to devour the child who is scooped up into the throne, but not even able to devour the mother before being cast down to earth and into the sea, again echoing creation. The Dragon now brings the conflict to earth and pukes all over the earth. The Dragon goes to make war against the church, the children of the woman (Mary.) In Chapter 13 the parody of God becomes more pronounced in the Beast. The Dragon gives over all its authority to the Beast, but that is absolutely nothing, there is no authority to give. Just as the Dragon is a parody of the one who sits on the throne and gives all authority to the lamb, the Dragon gives over the false authority to the Beast. The following imagery is an intense culmination of identification. Does the reader identify with the followers of the Beast, who is a parody of the lamb, with blasphemous names and 666 the symbol of false perfection, or with the followers of the lamb whose blood the whore of Babylon is drunk with? This is the idolatry that was the focus of Genesis and is now brought to full contrast in the end of revelation.
As the whore of Babylon is riding, adorned with jewels and Gold and beckoning the kings of the earth into her infidelity we not only see Rome, but all those powers that have been and will be engaged in the world’s idolatrous worship. Weather it is now or during second temple Judaism the fundamental distinction between worshiping God, and worshiping the created remains the same. At the end of the Apocalyptic narrative the final judgment comes, The one who sits on the throne Establishes the New Heaven and New Earth and the kosmos is set back into the fullness of correct worship.
Each of these sections have told the same story using varied symbols, each of them showing the movement from Idolatry and the present suffering of the saints, to the judgment of God and the restoration of creation. This narrative presupposes all that came before it, especially Genesis 1-3, using it to mirror images and draw the scope of the biblical story into the conclusion which is Jesus Christ, The Revelation.