Many persons regard Revelation as a closed book: "This is too deep for me!" "Difficult to understand!" "So many terrible events recorded!"—and many other similar comments regarding Revelation are frequently heard. And, from a casual glance at the contents of the book, it would appear that such comments are fully justified. Thus it happens that while other books of the New Testament are given careful consideration, Revelation, for many persons, remains unread. However, it will be recalled that during the course of these lessons, several other books of the New Testament have appeared difficult at first reading; but such difficulties soon vanish when proper background information is supplied. May this not also apply to Revelation? Indeed, some background information is absolutely essential for the study of Revelation, and without such help it is likely to remain forever a closed book. But when we know why Revelation was written, and when it was written; and when we realize how its message imparted new strength and courage to the hard-pressed Christians of early days, then it becomes a truly readable and inspiring book. Moreover, when Revelation is properly understood, its thrilling message will be seen as applying not only to the early Christians, but also to many of our present-day problems.
The following notes should help readers of the New Testament to gain a better understanding and appreciation of this book called "Revelation."
Title of the book: Readers of the New Testament are familiar with the title Revelation. However, the Greek word Apocalypse is often applied to Revelation, and in some translations this is used as a title for the book. The word Apocalypse means a brief vision or disclosure of certain phases of Truth, or some forthcoming events. The veil that covers the future is momentarily drawn aside, and the writer describes what he was privileged to witness. Thus the word revelation clearly indicates the character of the book. Incidentally, it should be noted that the Revised Standard Version correctly states that this is the "Revelation to John," rather than "of John," as given in most translations.
The author: In the opening verse of Revelation, the author mentions his name—"John"—and this is usually regarded as indicating the Apostle John. However, from time to time this apostolic authorship has been questioned, mainly on account of the marked dissimilarity between Revelation and the Fourth Gospel. Even as early as the third century, some theologians pointed out that the style and subject matter of these two books clearly indicated that they could not have been produced by the same writer. Nevertheless, since Revelation was written some thirty-five years before the Gospel of John, there is a possibility that the writer's experiences during the intervening years produced a complete change of viewpoint. A change of this sort is noticeable in Paul's Epistles, as pointed out in Lesson Seven of this course. Could not a somewhat similar change have taken place with the Apostle John? The New Testament indicates that John was somewhat of a "firebrand" in his earlier days, for Jesus renamed him "Boanerges," meaning "Son of thunder." This new name was given after John and his brother sought to call down fire from heaven upon some offending Samaritans. (See Luke 9:52-56.) Moreover, John had witnessed the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in A.D. 70; and shortly after his arrival in Ephesus, he had been arrested and imprisoned on the Isle of Patmos (probably about A.D. 80). All this would readily account for the mental attitude revealed in this apocalyptic writing. In later years John apparently attained a calmer state of mind, plus a deeper understanding of Jesus' teaching—all leading to a complete change of style and subject matter, as seen in John's Gospel. In all probability, Revelation was written at Ephesus, shortly after John's release from his imprisonment, as mentioned above, about A.D. 85.
Purpose of the book: This book was written in an effort to encourage the hard-pressed Christians to hold steady in their faith. The early church placed great emphasis upon the return of the Lord, and this hope enabled the Christians to endure persecution. But with the passing of the years, the persecutions grew in intensity, with the Christians suffering severely, and many of them being called upon to endure martyrdom. Small wonder, therefore, that they were asking, "Where is the promise of his coming?" (II Pet. 3:4); while others, in their intense agony, were crying: "O Sovereign Lord ... how long before thou wilt judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell upon the earth?" (Rev. 6:10). The writer of Revelation, therefore, made answer: "Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him" (Rev. 1:7); and this was confirmed by the declaration from the Lord, "Behold, I come quickly" (Rev. 3:11 A.V.). Thus the persecuted Christians were assured that if they would remain steadfast—maintaining their faith, even in the midst of persecutions—their Lord would surely deliver them, punishing their persecutors, and opening the way for faithful Christians to receive the reward of "a new heaven and a new earth" (Rev. 21:1). The book therefore brought a message of hope, inspiring the early Christians with new courage; and it thus played an important part in preserving Christianity from extinction.
The apocalyptic viewpoint: In order to understand Revelation, or any similar book, it is absolutely necessary to have some knowledge of what is frequently termed "the apocalyptic viewpoint." Modern readers are accustomed to think in terms of gradually improving conditions. Indeed, many of our present-day laws and activities are directed toward this much-desired end. In ancient times— especially among Jewish people—the opposite attitude prevailed. Many outstanding teachers and writers openly proclaimed that the prevailing evil conditions were destined to become worse, and all man's efforts towards improvement were in vain. Here was the one gleam of hope: when evil conditions had reached their lowest point, and when man had exhausted all his strength, courage, and endurance, then the Lord Himself would intervene and usher in an entirely new state of affairs. Thus the saying arose, "Man's extremity is God's opportunity." Early Christians were taught to rejoice in their intensified troubles, since all this indicated that the time of divine intervention must be at hand. This "apocalyptic viewpoint" constitutes the key not only to Revelation, but also to several Old Testament books, such as Ezekiel, Joel, and Daniel, besides many apocalyptic books not included in our present Bible.
Use of symbols: An outstanding characteristic of Revelation is its extensive use of symbols. This is noticeable in all apocalyptic literature. It should be noted that these symbols were used not only to represent persons, places, or events, but also for purposes of concealment. All apocalyptic books, including Revelation, were produced during periods of oppression and persecution. Indeed, apocalyptic books are frequently referred to as "tracts for troubled times"! The apocalyptic writers sought to encourage their readers by freely predicting the speedy overthrow of the oppressors and persecutors. However, a message of this type could not be given in plain language. Such a procedure would speedily bring about the arrest and execution of the author and all persons associated with him. Hence the message was couched in symbolic terms, and other devices of concealment were used; so that while the message would be readily understood by those persons "in the know," it would be meaningless to outsiders. In Revelation there are frequent references to "Babylon" and its overthrow, whereas the author was actually predicting the downfall of Rome. Several Roman emperors also figure in the story, but their identity is concealed through the use of symbols. These and many other references would be readily understood by the author and readers of Revelation; but the Roman censors would be hoodwinked, regarding the book as indicative of deranged mentality.
This extensive use of symbols raises a rather important question: How may we distinguish between what the author intended as symbolic, and what he regarded as literal happenings, connected for the most part with the future? For example: In Revelation there are frequent references to "earthquakes." (See Rev. 6:12; 8:5; 11:19.) But was the author here symbolically indicating a shake-up of government, with the summary deposing of persons in high places? Or was he predicting a physical catastrophe, with the wrecking of cities and countryside, and loss of life and property? Similarly, there are references to "plagues," "fire," and so on. Present-day readers may ask whether these are to be regarded as symbolic, or are to be taken literally. There is no general rule for making a distinction between the symbolic and the factual. However, a careful study of the context reveals that, in most instances, such references are to be regarded as symbolic. As already mentioned, the entire book is of symbolic character. When literal happenings of this sort appear to be indicated, it should be recognized that this represents the apocalyptic writer's idea of divine intervention. In those days, storms, earthquakes, and all catastrophic happenings were regarded as "acts of God," and these would represent what was deemed fitting punsihment for the oppressors and persecutors.
Present-day evaluation: Revelation is a very important book, and it should be studied from several different viewpoints.
(1) As literature: The Book of Revelation is an outstanding piece of literature, and it ranks high among the great books of the world. It is written in what may be termed the dramatic style, with the various episodes arranged in climactic order. The writer was an expert literary craftsman, excelling in description, action, suspense, and climax; he demonstrates his ability to hold the full attention of his readers from the opening chapter until the closing words. The term dramatic as here used does not infer that the book was written for stage production. It refers, rather, to the arrangement of the various episodes, and the many spectacular scenes presented in the book.
(2) As history: While the book itself cannot be regarded as historical, yet it deals with many actual happenings during New Testament times. It reveals the intensity of the persecutions directed against the early Christians, and indicates how they were enabled to hold steady during those agonizing times. Furthermore, the symbology used clearly depicts the activities of several Roman emperors, and other historical happenings. Sometimes questions are raised regarding the type of activities recorded in Revelation. Many of these appear to be of the vengeful type, and there is very little indication of the love and forgiveness usually associated with the Christian teaching. However, it should be recognized that Revelation follows along lines of apocalyptic teaching, rather than the Christ way as shown in the Gospels.
(3) As prophecy: Some writers regard Revelation as predicting certain dire happenings which are to take place in the distant future. Thus in certain quarters the book has been classified as "history written beforehand"—with the actual fulfillment taking place at the "end of the world." In this connection, two points should be carefully considered: (a) The author of Revelation distinctly states that the events recorded "must soon take place ... for the time is near" (Rev. 1:1-3). Furthermore, there are the oft-repeated promises of Jesus, "Behold, I come quickly . . ." (Rev. 3:11 A.V.). (b) The main theme of Revelation concerns the overthrow of the Roman persecutors, and this "overthrow" actually took place with the conversion of the Emperor Constantine in A.D. 312-313. At that time the emperor made the declaration that Christianity should be the recognized religion throughout the Roman Empire. True, this overthrow did not come about exactly as predicted in Revelation, but it did take place, and to this extent the prophecy was fulfilled. From the historical viewpoint, the events recorded in Revelation would now appear to deal with the past, rather than with things yet to come. However, from a metaphysical viewpoint, the past, present, and future are depicted in Revelation.
(4) Regarding interpretation: Revelation presents quite a number of possibilities in regard to interpretation, and many interesting suggestions have been made from time to time. However, since Revelation contains so much symbology, it would appear that the most helpful interpretation is to be found along metaphysical lines. In this way, many of the scenes depicted in Revelation may be regarded as symbolic presentations of the trials and difficulties that we encounter on the journey from mortal consciousness to spiritual consciousness. Mainly, these trials and difficulties act as a cleansing process—getting rid of mortal ideas, in order that they may be replaced by spiritual ideas. Thus the recorded happenings in Revelation find their counterparts in human experience. Some events thus depicted may have reference to past experiences, while others indicate over-comings yet to be made. This method of interpretation will be followed in this lesson.
Before entering upon a detailed study of the events recorded in Revelation, an outline will be given, with the various episodes arranged in climactic order, so that the student may get a clear picture of the entire book, and also see the relationship of each section to the whole story. Following this, each section will be discussed in order, so that all details may become clear, and thus form a basis for the metaphysical interpretation which follows.
- Introduction (Rev. 1:1-3.)
- Prologue Vision of the Son of Man (Rev. 1:4-20.)
- Episode I (Rev. 2:1; 3:22.): Seven letters to the Churches of Asia (Minor)
- Episode II (Rev. 4:1; 8:1.): The Seven Seals. (Brief Interlude: Rev. 7:1-17)
- Episode III (Rev. 8:2; 11:19.): The Seven Trumpets. (Brief Interlude: Rev. 10:1; 11:13)
- Episode IV (Rev. 12:1; 14:20.): Three Great Portents.
- Episode V(Rev. 15:1; 16:21.): The Seven Plagues.
- Episode VI (Rev. 17:1; 20:14.): Overthrow of "Babylon."
- Episode VII (Rev. 21:1; 22:5.): A New Heaven and Earth.
- Epilogue Warning, and Benediction. (Rev. 22:6-21.)
(Special note for students: When studying Revelation, best results will be attained by following the suggestions given at the commencement of this New Testament course. These were, substantially, as follows: (1) Read carefully the Scripture passage given in connection with the notes for the first section (Introduction: Rev. 1:1-3). Do not try to read further—only the passage given with the first section. (2) Read and consider the notes relating to this passage, as given in the lesson. This will help to clear up any obscure points in the Scripture passage, and make things more understandable. (3) Then read the Scripture passage again. This time the reading will prove more interesting and helpful. Do not hurry in these Scripture readings. Better to read a little with understanding than to read much without attaining such understanding. (4) Following this, read the Scripture passage given with the next section (Prologue, Rev. 1:4-20) and so on. In each instance, take the several steps suggested above; for this will help in attaining a thorough grasp of the entire book.)
In this opening section the author introduces himself, and after briefly stating his purpose in writing, declares that the book was written under divine inspiration. There seems a possibility that the "John" here mentioned was indeed "that disciple whom Jesus loved" (John 21:7), as indicated earlier in this lesson, and many early readers would undoubtedly regard this name as signifying apostolic approval of the book. It will be noticed that, even at the outset, there are indications of coming relief for the hard-pressed Christians, and they are assured that "the time is near."
This prologue is addressed to "the seven churches that are in Asia" (Asia Minor). The author first tells briefly of his imprisonment on "the island called Patmos," stating that it was during this period of imprisonment that he received an important vision, an account of which was to be transmitted to the seven churches (or Christian groups) at Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea. But the main purpose of the prologue was to present a symbolic picture of Jesus Christ. This picture, besides having its own special significance, would also act as a stamp of approval upon all that was to follow. It is well to note that, in presenting this symbolic picture, the author makes frequent use of the mystic number seven. Indeed, the picture itself is of sevenfold character:
(1) One "like a son of man" walking in an area where there were seven golden lampstands. This would be a symbolic representation of spiritual illumination.
(2) "Clothed with a long robe and with a golden girdle around his breast." Perhaps this was an indirect reference to the seamless robe mentioned in the Gospels. (See John 19:23.) Metaphysically, this would represent wholeness, or completeness.
(3) "Hair white as wool ... eyes like a flame of fire." The white hair was the well-known symbol of age and wisdom, while the flashing eyes emphasized the fact that age had not dimmed the perceptive powers of the Christ.
(4) "Feet like burnished bronze"—a reference to stability and understanding as relating to all affairs of life.
(5) "In his right hand he held seven stars." Here, the author was apparently thinking of a scepter, or orb, as held by a monarch, symbolizing regal power. This would recall Jesus' own words: "All authority (power, A.V.) in heaven and on earth has been given to me" (Matt. 28:18).
(6) "From his mouth issued a sharp two-edged sword." This would symbolize the power of the spoken word. The writer to the Hebrews states that "the word of God is ... sharper than any two-edged sword" (Heb. 4:12). It will be noticed that in Revelation Jesus is presented as a warrior, rather than as "Prince of Peace."
(7) "First and last. . . alive for evermore ... have the keys of Death and Hades." All these phrases are reminiscent of the Psalmist's words: "May he have dominion from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth!" (Psalms 72:8).
What was the author's purpose in placing this word-picture of Jesus in the opening chapter of Revelation? The purpose is not difficult to recognize. This word-picture forms what may be termed a frontispiece for Revelation. In Bible times the Jewish people were forbidden by their law to make a "likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath" (Exod. 20:4); but this word-picture makes a much better full-length portrait than any artist could have painted. Moreover, being presented in symbolic form, the picture emphasizes spiritual qualities rather than physical features. Thus the author is saying, in effect, "This is the One who commanded the writing of this book, and the happenings you will find depicted therein are the outcome of H is activities."
All this has present-day application; for if we are to undertake the momentous journey from mortal consciousness to spiritual consciousness, it is imperative that we should have set before us the Supreme Example. In other words, if we are to be followers of Jesus Christ, it is well to have His image and likeness clearly before us. This is not for the purpose of duplicating His physical features, but rather of cultivating the spiritual qualities emphasized in this symbolic picture of Jesus. As the writer to the Hebrews states, "Let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith." (Heb. 12:1-2.)
EPISODE I: The seven letters
These letters, addressed to the Seven Churches, clearly show the author's artistic ability and his skill in using symbols. Of course there were more than seven churches in Asia Minor at that time, but the figure seven was used for symbolic purposes, indicating completeness, or the entire Christian church. A careful examination also reveals that each letter consists of seven distinct parts.
(1) Designation: This shows the location of the Christian groups concerned. It will be noticed that the word angel is used, rather than minister (of each church). This appears to have been a precautionary measure, designed to protect the person in charge of the group from attacks by the persecutors. (See Rev. 2:1a.)
(2) Small section of the symbolic Christ picture, as given in the prologue: When all seven sections are placed together, it will be found that the complete picture (as given in Chapter One) is reproduced. (See Rev.2:1b.)
(3) Word of commendation—a "pat on the back," recognizing certain spiritual attainments in each group. (See Rev. 2:2-3.)
(4) Word of condemnation: "I have this against you"—indicating some shortcoming or wrongdoing in each group, and used as a counterbalance to the preceding word of commendation. (See Rev. 2:4.)
(5) Call to repentance, especially in regard to what was suggested in the word of condemnation: It will be noted that this call to repentance is usually followed by an "or else"! (See Rev. 2:5-6.)
(6) Provisional promise: This promise is offered providing the call to repentance is promptly heeded. (See Rev. 2:7b.)
(7) Closing chant: "He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches." (See Rev. 2:7a.)
This sevenfold pattern is followed in all the letters (with one exception), although not always in the given order, for sameness would be monotonous. (The author of Revelation was an artist, not a mechanical writer!) The exception is in the letter to Philadelphia ("city of brotherly love"). Possibly the author recognized that condemnation would have no place where love was predominant; hence, there is no word of condemnation in the letter to Philadelphia.
Historically, the main purpose of these letters was to call for some drastic changes in the attitudes and activities of the Christians—not only the members of the churches mentioned, but all Christians everywhere. The author was saying, in effect, that the Christians could not expect God to deliver them from their persecutors, unless they first cleaned up their own spiritual households. God was ever ready to act on their behalf, but they must first prepare the way. Some definite instances of the required changes are given in the letters, but other things are also indicated.
Metaphysically, these letters may be regarded as a sevenfold pattern of perfection. The churches and cities mentioned will also be recognized as representing the various phases of human thought and activity. The figure seven would indicate that while specific changes are mentioned, the intention is to cover the entire range of consciousness. However, the following metaphysical notes regarding the places actually mentioned may be found helpful.
Ephesus: ("desirable, appealing") Symbolizing desire seeking satisfaction—"You have abandoned the love you had at first." Desire has been termed the central, building faculty of the consciousness.
Smyrna: ("myrrh") Symbolizing substance, wealth, prosperity. "You are rich."
Pergamum: ("closely knit") Symbolizing the personal mind, which seeks to act independently of God. "Where Satan's seat is."
Thyatira: ("incense") Symbolizing the worship of false gods. "You tolerate the woman Jezebel."
Sardis: ("precious stone") Symbolizing material riches, but lacking in material wealth. "You have the name of being alive, but you are dead."
Philadelphia: ("brotherly love") Symbolizing love in expression. "An open door which no one is able to shut."
Laodicea: ("judgment of the people") Symbolizing lack of feeling, or enthusiasm. That phase of judgment which bases its understanding and decisions upon outward appearances. "You are neither cold nor hot. . . lukewarm."
(Note: In the above interpretations, all words in parentheses are quoted from the Metaphysical Bible Dictionary).
It will be noticed that these seven letters immediately follow the symbolic picture of the Christ, as given in the prologue. There was purpose in this arrangement, and it is still applicable today. The author was seeking to point out that if readers of these letters desired to shape their lives according to the divine pattern, they must contemplate, practice, and develop the spiritual qualities thus portrayed. Possibly this was what Paul had in mind when he wrote, "And we all ... beholding the glory of the Lord, are being changed into his likeness from one degree of glory to another" (II Cor. 3:18). The letters are also helpful in pointing out what must be eliminated, and what must be emphasized, in consciousness, before a real start can be made on the journey from mortality to spirituality. Nor are we left to work out our own salvation in these matters, for divine help is at hand: "Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any one hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and hewithme" (Rev. 3:20).
EPISODE II: Breaking the Seven Seals
This episode opens in a dramatic way. Chapters Four and Five present a picture of the heavenly council, with the Lord God Almighty seated upon a throne, and surrounded by twenty-four smaller thrones which are occupied by "twenty-four elders, clad in white garments, with golden crowns on their heads." Flashes of lightning illuminate the scene, with accompanying peals of thunder, while four symbolic creatures join in a melodious chant: "Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty." The twenty-four elders also add a chorus to this chant, as they cry, "Worthy art thou, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power."
Attention is then called to a parchment scroll, held "in the right hand of him who was seated on the throne." Apparently this scroll contained a very important written message, but it was rolled tightly, and sealed with seven seals. Desire was expressed to read the message on the scroll, but no person present had authority to break the seals—and here it must be recalled that, in those days, unauthorized breaking of seals was regarded as a capital offense. However, at the opportune moment "a Lamb" appeared, and took charge of the scroll. All the musicians and singers present immediately recognized that the "Lamb" had full authority, for they began to chant, "Worthy art thou to take the scroll and open the seals." The breaking of the seals then produced some startling results, which are described in the sixth chapter.
(1) With the breaking of the first seal, there appeared "a white horse, and its rider had a bow; and a crown was given to him, and he went out conquering and to conquer."
(2) Breaking the second seal brought forth "another horse, bright red; and its rider was permitted to take peace from the earth ... and he was given a great sword."
(3) The breaking of the third seal brought forth "a black horse, and its rider had a balance in his hand." A voice was also heard, saying, "A quart of wheat for a denarius; and three quarts of barley for a denarius."
(4) "When he opened the fourth seal ... behold, a pale horse, and its rider's name was death, and Hades followed him."
(5) A different type of vision came with the fifth seal. The author was enabled to see "under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God, and for the witness they had borne." From these came the cry, "How long before thou wilt judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell upon the earth?" This was a reference to the persecuted Christians who had been martyred; and those still living were thus warned that they too would be called upon to endure further suffering.
(6) The breaking of the sixth seal was followed by "an earthquake," together with many catastrophic happenings; and then "the sky vanished like a scroll that is rolled up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place." These calamitous events brought terror to the hearts of all men. "Kings ... great men .. . generals ... rich and strong .. . and every one, slave and free, hid in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, calling to the mountains and rocks, 'Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb ... for who can stand before it?' "
Two things should be noted at this point:
First, the author of Revelation follows the regular apocalyptic pattern, as mentioned earlier in the lesson. He does not hold out any hope for the Christians, insofar as conditions are concerned. Indeed, conditions will continue to deteriorate until "rock bottom" is reached. But all these catastrophic happenings would indicate that the "day of the Lord" was close at hand; and this long-looked-for "day" would bring deliverance for the persecuted Christians.
Second, the author of Revelation, in describing the remarkable happenings following the breaking of the six seals thus far mentioned, has reached a climax in his narrative, and tension has mounted almost to the breaking point. This will be recognized even by the present-day reader. Anything added following these events would bring about an anticlimax! So the author pauses and introduces what may be termed a brief interlude, wherein the scene is entirely changed and the reader is given a "breathing space," to prepare him for the awaited breaking of the seventh seal and the dramatic events which are to follow.
Contrasting with the calamitous happenings and frantic outcries that followed the breaking of the sixth seal, two peaceful scenes are here presented. The winds are held in abeyance and all destructive activities are halted, while angels place a seal upon the foreheads of "a hundred and forty-four thousand ... out of every tribe of Israel." This seal upon their foreheads not only signifies divine approval, but also assures them of divine protection. Then there appears "a great multitude which no man could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and tongues. . . clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands." This mighty throng apparently represents the Gentile converts— for when Revelation was written, Gentiles were thronging into the Christian Church; and the information is given: "These are they who have come out of great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb." To them is also given the promise: "They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more... for the Lamb ... will guide them to springs of living water; and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes." Thus there is the divine recognition of both Jewish and Gentile Christians in the early church, with the assurance of God's love and protection for them.
Following this "breathing space"—and because of the peaceful atmosphere thus created—the reader is now fully prepared for the opening of the seventh seal; and this long-awaited event is described in a brief but unforgettable sentence: "When the Lamb opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour" (Rev. 8:1).
This brief period of silence provides an opportunity to consider some important metaphysical teachings arising out of the seal-breaking activities connected with the second episode. Breaking seals symbolizes the breaking up of old states of consciousness, or the elimination of those beliefs, things, or conditions that hold us in bondage. This is a very important procedure in the effort to advance from mortal consciousness to spiritual consciousness. Indeed, very little progress can be made until these old states of consciousness are broken up; and this breaking up is usually accomplished through the faithful use of denials. In the seven letters (discussed in connection with Episode One) we are instructed as to what we must do; but with the breaking of the seals we make an actual start upon this important work. Episode Two thus presents a program of spiritual activity.
(1) The rider of the "white horse," appearing immediately following the breaking of the first seal, clearly represents the overcoming Christ, going forth "conquering and to conquer." This interpretation is confirmed in a later section of Revelation: "Behold, a white horse! He who sat upon it is called Faithful and True ... he has a name inscribed. King of kings and Lord of lords" (Rev. 19:11-16). Thissymbology indicates that the Christ gives leadership in this activity of making war upon whatever tends to hold us in bondage. However, it should be recognized that, from a metaphysical viewpoint, all the activities here indicated take place within consciousness. Thus the breaking of the first seal reveals the Christ as our overcoming power, while the remaining seals symbolize the beliefs, conditions, and things that we are called upon to overcome by His aid.
(2) The Christ made war on these, and we must do likewise. The second seal calls attention to war and warlike activities. However, in metaphysical interpretation we deal with causes, rather than effects. Hence we are called upon here to overcome resentments, bitterness, hatred, ill-will, and all other internal causes of strife. The third seal indicates famine conditions, and therefore our spiritual warfare must be against thoughts of lack, limitation, poverty, want, and so forth. The fourth seal reminds us that "the last enemy to be destroyed is death." (I Cor. 15:26.) During His ministry, Jesus made war upon death through His teachings, His miracles, and His resurrection; and we are called upon to follow His example. The fifth seal indicates a slightly different type of warfare. As already noted in these lessons, many of the early Christians were becoming impatient, and were continually crying: "How long, 0 Lord? How long?" But impatience in all its forms must be eliminated from consciousness, and we must learn to say, with the Psalmist, "I waited patiently for the Lord" (Psalms 40:1). The sixth seal appears somewhat difficult to interpret metaphysically. However, a careful reading of thissection reveals the presence of fear, in several forms. It seems possible, therefore, that we are here being directed to make war on fear in all its forms, and to eliminate it entirely from our consciousness. Many times during His ministry, Jesus referred to this elimination of fear; and in this symbolic picture in Revelation He is shown as making war on this enemy of mankind.
(3) Special attention should also be given to the seven important promises made in an earlier section of Revelation (Rev. 2-3). These promises are all directed "to him who conquers," and are thus related to the spiritual warfare indicated in connection with the breaking of the seven seals. The promises are as follows:
"To him who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God" (Rev. 2:7). "I will give you the crown of life" (Rev. 2:10). "I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, with a new name written" (Rev. 2:17). "I will give him power over the nations" (Rev. 2:26). "He... shall be clad in white garments. and ... I will confess his name before my Father" (Rev. 3:5). "I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God" (Rev. 3:12). "I will grant him to sit with me on my throne" (Rev. 3:21).
In all this spiritual warfare, it should be remembered that we are following the One who said, "Be of good cheer, I have overcome the world" (John 16:33); and we are assured by Him of final victory. All this important teaching, given in connection with the breaking of the seven seals, appears to be summarized in the opening verse of the well-known hymn:
"The Son of God goes forth to war, A kingly crown to gain; His blood red banner streams afar: Who follows in His train?"
Questions for Lesson 11
- When and where was Revelation written? What is stated in the opening chapter regarding the author? What reasons have we for supposing this refers to the Apostle John?
- What was the author's main purpose in writing Revelation? Explain briefly the position of the Christians at that time, and indicate how this book would help them.
- What is indicated by the term apocalyptic viewpoint? How does this differ from our present-day attitude? What was the one ray of hope in this apocalyptic viewpoint?
- To which cities in Asia Minor were the seven letters addressed? Why was there no mention of condemnation in the letter to Philadelphia?
- Explain very briefly, using your own words, what happened when the seven seals were broken. What transpired between the breaking of the sixth and the seventh seals?
- The Prologue, in Revelation, presents a symbolic picture of Jesus (Rev. 1:12-20). What important spiritual qualities are here emphasized? Explain briefly why it is necessary for us to be continually "looking to Jesus" (Heb. 12:1-2).
- Metaphysically, how should we regard the seven letters to the churches in Asia Minor? In what way or ways are these letters helpful to us today?
- From a metaphysical viewpoint, what is symbolized by the seal-breaking activities depicted in the Second Episode? How does this help us in the development of spiritual consciousness?
- When undertaking to follow the rider of the "white horse" (Rev. 6:2), what are some of the error beliefs, conditions, or things upon which we are called to make war? Where does this activity take place? How did Jesus, during His ministry, set us an example in this warfare?
- Mention three special promises given to "him who conquers" (Rev. 2-3), and explain very briefly what each of these promises would mean in your own life and affairs.