There is a sea, which knows no salt wave. Like glass or finest crystal it surrounds a mystic throne. There is a place where fearsome animals speak in tongues of savage prophesy. There is a time when all symbol, all allegory, shall be turned inside out and a lamb, a sacrificial lamb, bearing the marks of its torture and death shall lead the meek and mighty into a new life. There is a tree which will bring peace and happiness. Its fruit will heal the millennia of pain and grief which humankind have suffered since eating the forbidden fruit of Eden’s tree.
But before such paradise can be regained, men and women of the past, the present and the future have been and will be confronted with a terrifying journey from the edge of their experience to the most dreaded summit of their fears. The details of this journey and its goal, are contained in the most violent, most contorted and most controversial book of the New Testament: The Book of the Apocalypse, or Revelation. Alone of all books in the Bible, its set in the future.
The book of Revelation contains many mysteries. Even the simplest questions about why it was written, when it was written, and by whom it was written have sparked off much acrimonious debate down the centuries. At first glance at least some of the questions seem unnecessary, the author introduces himself, he is called John and he is writing on the island Patmos by divine command. But there all certainty ends. John, yes, but which John?
The early church fathers felt sure they knew the answer. The author of Revelation was, they claimed, John the son of Zebedee, the disciple whom Jesus loved. The only apostle, some say, to die a peaceful death. But in the second half of the third century people became less sure. Dionysius of Alexandria made the telling point that the style and content of the book bore little relation to the Gospel of John. Many found its teaching too nightmarish and there was vociferous lobbying to ensure its exclusion from the Bible amid allegations that its fevered author deserved the title of heretic rather than visionary.
But with all its flaws and ferocity Revelation won through. Its author, whether John the Beloved or John the Unknown, has presented the world with the most tantalising of the books of both Old and New Testaments. Unconsciously he has provided the Bible with a perfect conclusion. For the book which gained inclusion into the Bible by the skin of its teeth is a mirror image of the early chapters of Genesis. Like Genesis it treads the boundaries of time. Creation and destruction, sin and salvation frame the collection of books which are the Bible and make it whole.
The author of Revelation is racked by horror at the terrors to come and the evil which humanity can mistake for good. His mind is fevered but he’s not a bigot and its not by chance that this coded denunciation of political corruption and spiritual degradation begins with criticism of the Christian communities which John knew. But from the world of local churches, John leads his readers to questions of immeasurable greatness.
The Revelation is a quarry that can never be mined out. Its an invitation to everyone, at every time, to look into his or her own future and to open their eyes to the vision of eternity where there will be a new heaven and a new earth, where the slaughtered Lamb is master, and where the sea knows no salt wave…