Report by John-Peter Gernaat
The gospel reading on the first Sunday of Trinity before Advent was from Revelation 1. The description of the Son of Man described by John confused me the many times that I read it. Who is it who is behind John when he turns around? Is it Jesus resurrected? That is the usual interpretation. Understanding that this is also the Future Human Being filled with the Christ, fully transformed a Spirit Human, is never a description presented by Bible study teachers or preachers. So it was with great interest that I listened to the Introduction to the Book of Revelation presented by Rev. Michael Merle on 29 November 2023.
This talk gave us a sense of the Book of Revelation and presented a context, in preparation for further talks that will go into more depth and detail. The Book of Revelation is a particularly unusual work and really stands out from the rest of the New Testament.
The New Testament can be seen to be made of four parts: the Gospels; the Acts of the Apostles - which is the continuation of the events after the ascension and considered to have been written by Luke; the various letters written to congregations and certain individuals; and the Book of Revelation. The images presented in the Book of Revelation have caused several commentators to question why it is a part of the New Testament.
There is one book in the Old Testament that also stands out and is filled with visions and tells of a dragon. This is the Book of Daniel. The Book of Daniel is interestingly composed and is written in two languages; it begins in Hebrew changes to Aramaic and ends again in Hebrew. The Protestant bibles contain only part of Daniel while the Catholic Bible contains an additional three stories. The Protestants considered Daniel to form one of the Prophets, but in the structure presented in Hebrew scripture Daniel forms part of the Writings that follow the Prophets. The Aramaic part of the book of Daniel is very carefully structured and contains a lot of mirroring. The book as a whole can be divided into two parts: what was happening in the court with the changing of culture and history and then the revelations given to Daniel.
The Book of Revelation has a strong connection to the Book of Daniel because the Book of Daniel brings us the first picture of the Son of Man – an archetype of the human being, the son of humanity standing as a future image. What was read in the gospel reading earlier on the same day would have resounded for anyone who knew the Book of Daniel - his hair as white as snow, white as wool is the description from the Book of Daniel. It would have been a description that the reader would immediately have recognised as it contains a picture that they would have understood. The colour white described here does not describe the age of the Son of Man, but rather a colour that best reflects light. It represents a very different quality, as in the description of the Transfiguration or of the angels in the tomb after the resurrection, standing in white, bright shining robes. The Book of Revelation is written in the tradition that is now referred to, properly, as apocalyptic literature. ‘Apocalypse’ is the Greek word for revelation it does not refer to terrible times, as it is often used today. Thus, apocalyptic literature, in scriptural terms, is the literature of revelation. The book of Ezekiel contains a lot of apocalyptic literature. In the gospel by Luke, in chapter 21, Jesus speaks of what is coming and reveals a picture that is apocalyptic. The apocalyptic pictures always contained within them the seed of overcoming. It is not a guarantee of overcoming but the potential is there. For example: “Stand in these tumultuous times”; “Don’t lose heart…”. In the Book of Daniel, we encounter the three young men in the fiery furnace and Daniel in the lion's den; these are apocalyptic times where those experiencing them survive because they do not lose their head and find their strength, God-given, that they take hold of.
The Book of Revelation, like the Book of Daniel, is carefully structured, in its 22 chapters. The first chapter of the Book of Revelation is the revelation of Jesus Christ, Christ is revealed as the archetype of the future human being; here is the human being fully filled with the divine, with what, in anthroposophical terms, is called Spirit Human. This is the future towards which we are evolving, depicted very much in the imagery of the Book of Daniel (the Son of Man): the human being to which we will give birth. One could say that what John sees before him is the son to which he will give birth, which is a picture of Christ in the human being.
The second and the third chapter of the Book of Revelation are devoted to the letters to the seven churches. These chapters are very key for us as we are still a community that respects a letter from the Angel. Our epistle (which means letter) at the beginning and at the end of the Act of Consecration of Man is not just a prayer; the epistles are letters written to us and it is our response in the same letter that goes back to the angelic world. These epistles have a place in the overall movement and form of the sacrament: they belong properly to the right-hand side of the altar.
Chapter 4 is a vision of heaven: the curtain is drawn aside, the heavenly court is unveiled. John is not dreaming this vision, he is living this vision, he has been drawn up into the spiritual world. He walks into the Throne Room of God where no other human being has walked in and come back to report on it. This is how we know that this John is Lazarus, he has gone through his initiation, his temple sleep and more. We have a real sense that he can now cross the threshold and go into the spiritual world and return to tell us. There are elements in his vision in chapter 4 that echo the prophet Ezekiel, rather than the Book of Daniel. He sees an angelic group in the imagery that Ezekiel saw, this unusual, mysterious imagery. This is a description of one of the groups of angelic beings described as wheels within wheels within wheels, which is a rather unusual description for a group of beings. They are the Thrones. What is described is movement within movement within movement, so we have to go beyond the literal description, but still hold onto what the picture opens up.
Chapter 5 introduces us to the sealed book of future events. The book has to be opened up, the seven seals have to be broken and pictures have to be revealed. This is important because this chapter starts with pictures, this is about, what in Anthroposophical terms, we call Imagination. We discovered that we really have to develop an imagination, a picture of what we are now and what we are becoming.
Chapter 6 is the opening of the seals and Chapter 7 also is still with the seals and chapter 8 is the opening of the 7th seal. With the 7th seal comes the next stage; after Imagination - our capacity and quality to perceive pictures in the spiritual world - we come to a quality of new hearing, Inspiration. We come to the seven trumpets, to sound. Sound of the trumpets brings the inspiration. We have the unfolding of the earth evolution and the ending of earth evolution as we know it with the great cosmic storm that is described in Chapter 9.
Chapter 10 brings us to humanity at the threshold of the spirit world. Chapter 11 is the measuring of the temple and the altar with the 7th trumpet. These qualities inform the form of the Act of Consecration of Man. The picture of the priest with the censor is the priest measuring the altar. The priest is demarcating the altar so that the spiritual world becomes aware of where it is that this extraordinary event of transubstantiation is taking place. The censing makes the altar visible to the spiritual world and it becomes visible to the human being by measuring it out, its length, it's breadth, its depth. The seven sticks bearing light are visible on our altar. They are there because there is no more that one can do. In the old Catholic Mass, there was a hierarchy from two candles, to six candles to seven candles. Only when a Bishop was celebrating were seven candles placed upon the altar. The priests in The Christian Community are ordained to worthily celebrate all the sacraments, including the sacrament of ordination. The Act of Consecration of Man, as the renewed sacrament, renrews the highest form of sacrament one might hope to celebrate in the old form.
Chapter 12 is the vision of the cosmic woman, the woman clothed with the sun, resting her feet upon the moon, crowned with 12 stars, giving birth; and the war in heaven with the dragon. There is the story of Bel and the Dragon in the book of Daniel. The dragon represents something very real.
In chapter 13 we have the two beasts and the purpose of two evils; and the great mystery of numbers is represented, the number 666 – what happens when you fall short of 777, and what that represents and why that is evil, because it looks so like the full thing and yet it is not. This is of the wonder of evil, that it can approach this mystery of looking so like what is pretending to be, but is not – the great act of pretence.
Then there is the fall of Babylon and the Marriage of the Lamb, the dividing of the spirits and now, having moved through Imagination and Inspiration, we arrive at Intuition.
Intuition is represented by the seven bowls which the angels have to tip and pour onto the world. They pour out onto the world the passion of God, the intensity of God’s gaze and activity. We have gone from picture, to hearing, to action. We see this also in the structure of the Act of Consecration of Man. The picture comes from the Gospel: there we have the picture in words, and we have it in the sermon as well, a picture one can work with. Rudolf Steiner’s instruction to the first priests was that their sermon should leave the congregation with a picture. Then we hear the inspired words, on the offertory, that bring about the reality of the action of transubstantiation in the third part of our Sacrament, not just of bread and wine, but of all of us: our consecration, our transubstantiation is at play here.
The fall of Babylon represents the fall of the corruption that the human being has brought onto the earth, that falls away. Then we have the song of deliverance which comes with the rider on the white horse. This is an extraordinary image that is not exclusive to Christianity. Hinduism work with many revelations of the divine, one of which is the Buddha. The Buddha is considered the ninth revelation of the ten revelations of the divine. The tenth manifestation, which is yet to come, is the rider on the white horse. It is an image of divinity in the future bringing something to humanity.
In chapter 20 we have the fall of Satan and the 1000 years, which has been interpreted differently by many different groups.
Finally, we come to chapters 21 and 22: the New Heaven and the New Earth of chapter 21, and the new Heavenly City of chapter 22. The new Heavenly City is the City in which the River of Life flows along the central concourse of the City and on either side the Tree of Life: on this side and on that. So it is one Tree on both sides of the River, or one could imagine an avenue of Trees on both sides of the river. We are to become the Tree of Life, so the Tree of Life in the City represents us. We are alive, bearing life, and the leaves of the Tree is for the healing of the nations. We have a sense that we are to become the healer, not only being whole ourselves, but offering wholeness to others.
Here we now have a sense of the important structure of the Book of Revelation:
The Book of Revelation can be seen as a guide, not of the life that brought us life, as the gospels are a guide, but rather how we live that life. It is a guidebook to being Christian. So, it is not about the past, it is not about the future, it is not about the present, it is about all of them, it is about right now, where we are, right now in our present lives. It is about the hardships of every life in every age. Unfortunately, none of us are spared. How do we stand in this storm of life, how do we manage it? It unfolds the path from Imagination to Inspiration to Intuition. This book is an attempt to show us the way to the true fulfilment of our being through Christ, from the opening picture of the Son of Man, to the closing picture of being a Tree of Life in the new Heavenly Jerusalem, It is the seed of the future.
The most amazing thing about the Book of Revelation is that it is not the end. We have the picture in chapter 21 where “every tear is wiped away”, no more pain, no more suffering, no more death. This is the picture of the Buddha’s view of Nirvana. One might think that it is over. And a new verse begins: “and I heard a voice that says: I make all things new”. The seed is taken from the fruiting of one season and planted for the next season. “I am the originator and the fulfiller”; I bring things into being and I bring things to their fulfilment so that the new can begin. It is a book that introduces us to the first and to the second death – we will speak more about that at another time – about transition; about spiritualisation; about transubstantiation; and about our evolution to the future Spirit Human Being.
Some may wonder why the Book of Revelation made it into the canon of scripture. There are some scholars and theologians who say that if we lost every book of the Bible and could keep only one, it should be the Book of Revelation, because it has the whole picture in it, if one knows how to read it.
In the training of the priests for The Christian Community Rudolf Steiner gave several courses, but the only book out of the whole of scripture that formed the theme of one of the most important courses in the preparation of priests, was the course on the Book of Revelation. This is our book, more than any other in the New Testament, to explore, to understand, to guide. The ending of the Prologue of John’s gospel tells us that no one has beheld the Father, and now the Son comes as a guide in this beholding of the divine. It is equally a good description of the Book of Revelation. John has beheld and has written for us how we to can become beholders of the Spiritual Worlds and of all that only manifests and carry.
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