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THE APOCALYPSE.

CHAPTER XIX.

THE PROPHET.

But as

THE Apocalypse of St John no longer belongs to the first period of early Christianity, that is, if we consider the exact date of its composition. The book cannot have been written earlier than the reign of Domitian; the destruction of Jerusalem has taken place long ago, and the outbreak of the great persecutions on the part of the State is anticipated. the solitary surviving memorial of early Christian prophecy, and as the product of enthusiasm, it still represents the hopes and thoughts of the earliest age before the development of the ecclesiastical constitution. No living prophet, it is true, here speaks to us : it is a book; but the book is one which claims with its very first words to be prophetic inspiration. Whatever its ultimate origin from Christian and Jewish sources, the book itself emphatically claims to be considered as a whole, and as the expression of Christian prophecy. The author at once expresses

expresses the profoundest consciousness of his call in his opening sentences. God wanted to make known to His servants the prophets a revelation of the things which must shortly come to pass. For this purpose the angel was sent to the servant of God, John, in order that he might hand on the message to others. His words are the words of the prophecy. Happy he that reads, and he that lays them to heart. God Himself speaks through the book.

Thereupon the heavenly calling of the prophet is related to us in the vision. When he was upon the island of Patmos, to deliver the message of God and the testimony about Jesus, he found himself in a trance on the Lord's day and was charged by Jesus Himself to write to the seven Churches of Asia Minor what he saw, that which is and that which shall be hereafter.

The seven Epistles which are now dictated to him may be regarded from a twofold point of view. They are messages of the heavenly Messiah to the heavenly leaders of the seven Churches made known to men upon earth by the prophet John. But at the same time they are the oracles of the Spirit; so the close of every letter reminds us, the Spirit is speaking to the Churches. The prophet wishes therefore to be regarded purely as a medium, both in what he promises and threatens as well as in his revelations and exhortations. The difference between St Paul and the author of this book is very striking. St Paul, too, censured various evil practices after a similar manner-e.g. in First Corinthians-employing both promises and threats.

But he always speaks as a human being and never as the interpreter of the Spirit.

Next follows the long series of apocalyptic visions, which continues to the end of the book. However constantly the scene changes, the author never forgets to play the part of the prophet. He sees and hears all that goes on in heaven. He is removed from one

. place to another; he is so intensely affected by what he sees that he bursts into tears. When he has swallowed the little book, at the angel's command, he describes its effect: “ It was bitter to my stomach.” He speaks with one of the twenty-four elders in heaven. The conversations with angels are of especially frequent occurrence. From time to time the description of the visions is interrupted by short utterances of the Spirit, which then produce an impression of immediate inspiration in contrast with their context: under this category falls the impressive blessing pronounced upon the future martyrs. But then, on the other hand, one is struck by the threefold asseveration of the truth of the inspiration. « These words are faithful and true.” Is that the true prophet's language ? The conclusion of the book consists of nothing but attestations concerning the divine authorship. First the angel speaks, then Jesus, finally the seer himself. His inspired book, which now possesses divine and legal authority, ends with terrible threats and extravagant promises.

A comparison with some of the products of the Jewish apocalyptic literature, which bear a very striking similarity, e.g., the books of Baruch and Ezra, which were written about the same time, reveals to us the fact that the prophetic consciousness is a great deal more prominent in the case of John. In the former case the pseudonymous author speaks for the most part in his own person, and clearly distinguishes his human words from the divine communications. But in this case everything claims to be revelation from beginning to end. The faithfulness and truth of the divine word is thrice emphasized, and finally the angel, Jesus, and the seer, testify to the divinity of the revelation. The human element and the author's independent position recede entirely into the background.

But is the whole book to be really ascribed to prophetic revelation ? On the contrary, every page of the book confirms our belief that we are here dealing with fiction. The mythological contents of the visions, the form of revelation by means of angels, the conscious employment of literary art in the construction of the book, the similarity of the style with that of all Jewish apocalypses, are all proofs against the genuineness of the prophecy. Very probably, too, the name of John is intended to denote the celebrated disciple of Jesus, and then the book is pseudonymous, like all similar compositions. It is a literary production from beginning to end. Even the seven Epistles are not real letters which despatched; one does not write to angels.

How are we then to explain the contradiction between the prophetic claims and the employment of fiction in the composition of the book ?

The author possessed prophetic gifts and powers. The seven letters and many short oracles of the Spirit scattered here and there throughout the book, can be traced back to a state of inspired enthusiasm as their original source. He may even have had visions, at least one vision which impelled him to write. Above all, he feels himself called to be a

were

ever

prophet because of the terribly critical nature of the times in which he is living. It is an inner conipulsion that causes him to sound the battle-cry for the last struggle of the people of God against Rome. He himself has been aroused from his sleep by the storm and stress of the times. Now his office is to act as watchman overthe Churches of Asia Minor, to threaten, to exhort, to comfort, that everyone may be ready for the last battle. Thus the Christian prophets of old conceived of their task. The inner moral constraint which bade them speak, whether they would or no, appeared to them then as the Spirit or word of God. But side by side with this the same man is also a writer of apocalypses, a literary prophet. He lives on the learned results of past ages, he has studied books and digested books. He has drawn his great eschatological system from them. He does not hesitate to incorporate fragments of older writers in his own work as though they were his own revelations. This very human wisdom, which is not even his own, he produces as though it were God's word, and he tries to conceal from himself his own insight into the real origin of the book by making as loud assertions of its divine origin as possible.

Thereby his work becomes a memorial of the decay of prophecy. We can learn from him that there were once Christian prophets who possessed God's word and claimed the highest authority. Their enthusiasm, their courage, their holy zeal, speak from every good word in this book. But its author is scarcely himself to be accounted any longer one of them. He would cover his Jewish scholasticism with the mantle of

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