prologue, greetings, christology

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.


4 responses

  1. I think this link has the New Jerusalem Bible online, at least the NT part.

  2. Hmmm try this – link

  3. Notice, “highest of earthly kings.” Implicitly, then, one among them.The adoptionist theology I’ve bumped into had Jesus becoming God’s son through his obedient death. Not all that different from what Paul often says, as I remember. And “first-fruits of the dead” makes Jesus very much one of us, resurrected, of course, but merely the first of the lot.But I agree that this is an earlier concept than Paul’s. This is more Jewish in flavor.As the Chinese Emperor is “Son of Heaven” (in another metaphor-packed language) the King of Israel is a son of Yahweh (a stand-in, that is, for Israel’s true king.)Among the Psalms that were used to annoint [~”crown”] a new king: “You are my son; today I have begotten you.” This is very close to what Jesus hears at his “baptism,” exactly what he hears in some early manuscripts of Luke.Why did we need John the Baptist in the story? For a new king of not particularly public lineage, a suitable prophet is convenient for purposes of annointing him. But not too openly, when the nation is occupied by a foreign, pagan power.And notice, that in our passage Jesus underwent his death for his Father, his God. He has not yet, in this passage at least, been adsorbed into Gentile myths of men who become gods by being sacrificed painfully. (Which is supposed to be where the custom of crucifixion originated, before the Romans adopted it as a punishment.)One of my books interprets Revelations as an astrological document–in which the meanings we see are implicit, but “explained” in terms of a vision of the astronomical structure of the heavens. So this is necessarily a hierarchical description, cast with a whole sky-full of angels. The world is, as a matter of fact, awesome.A dream I had, long ago… I was standing on the ground, looking up at God thundering down above me. I could feel that we were connected through an “arm” reaching around behind the visible world, that it was also me up there doing that. (This was not an “I’m special” kind of dream, as much as a revelation/puzzling-out of what I’d read and “understood” about the relation of God to us. So far, I can only see it as a partial-truth.) The intimate and the awesome don’t necessarily exclude one another–although both at once (or either one) seem hard to sustain.

  4. Crystal, I’m really grateful for pointing us to the NJB on line. David, thanks for an excellent analysis. Re the “cloud of unknowing” I have once again to bring forth a paraphrase of C.S. Lewis:”Be not mistaken, Screwtape, the cause of our Father Below is never in greater jeopardy than when one of these miserable Christians looks out upon a desert universe from which every vestige of God is gone—and still obeys.I love you for your candor.Re the “adoptionist theoy”: “John” knew that we are born in the image of God. As a quaker I see the divinity in all of us. “John” may be inferring that we realize its fullness only after death.I’m happy to hear your suggestion that Rev. may “den[y]ies the orthodox doctrine of Trinity. Thinking as I do that making it into a compulsory dogma was part of the surrender of the Church to the Prince of this World.

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