This is an incredibly densely packed bit of writing. I’m seeing it fall into three chunks as it were, a prologue, a traditional (sort of) greeting, and lots and lots and lots of christological material.
This book is a revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him who in turn sent his angel to make it known to his servant John, and John has borne witness. In Paul we see the spirit of adoption cry out in our hearts: Abba, Father! Here God tells Jesus, who tells an angel who tell John who tells the seven churches. We seem to have replaced a parental intimacy with a celestial bureaucracy. The people of God suffer persecutions and other trials and God now seems very very distant.
While this is NOT the vision of God in heaven I carry about with me, I must admit there are times when I feel alone in this world and God seems hidden behind a cloud of unknowing and it feels like I must stand without supports or helps in this world. Perhaps this book is a vision for such times.
John opens next with the traditional greeting that Paul uses in his letters: grace and peace to you, but where Paul would say in Christ Jesus John says, from him who is, who was, and who is to come emphasizing God’s imperial and eternal reign, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne — an angelology is implicit here — and from Jesus Christ.
This angelology has an angel standing before the throne of God for each church community: one for Toronto Monthly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends and another for St Stephen’s United Church in North Oshawa. John has taken the angelology of Deuteronomy and transposed angels for the nations into angels for the churches.
When the Most High gave the nations each their heritage, when he partitioned out the human race, he assigned the boundaries of nations according to the number of the children of God, but Yahweh’s portion was his people, Jacob was to be the measure of his inheritance. (Deuteronomy 32:8-9)
In Deuteronomy Israel has favoured nation status before God. Each church has an angel — no church has favoured nation status before Christ and his Father.
Most of this passage is packed with christology. We could spend hours unpacking it all.
Highlights: God speaks to us through Jesus, who in turn speaks to angels who speak to his “servants” who speak to the churches. Jesus Christ is the faithful witness, the First-born from the dead, and the highest of earthly kings, and God is his God and Father. I’m thinking here, that despite Christ’s clearly exalted role at the right hand of the Father, that this book holds to an adoptionist christology. In other words, Jesus was not divine from the foundation of the world but becomes divine through his obedience. That makes the theology here more primitive than the theology of even Paul in 1st Thessalonians.
What might this mean? Revelation, the last book, last book written, may preserve a doctrine of Christ that is older than Paul and denies the orthodox doctrine of Trinity. For me this is a working theory I will bring to the reading of Revelation. I’m open to being disproved.
This passage also may have implications for what Larry and I have been talking about: something we call theosis: that we are each divine or on the path to becoming divine. Another thing I will watch for.