First and foremost, please keep in mind that Revelation is rightly understood through a futuristic lens, and I definitely subscribe to a futuristic interpretation of the book. However, although that is definitely true, it must also be understood that the futurist aspect of Revelation is not its primary emphasis. As Dr. Hahn has eloquently shown us already, there is also a sacramental dimension to this enigmatic book of Scripture, and we will see later that both the futuristic and sacramental can and do converge in such a way that it makes what is often considered to be a hard-to-understand book of the Bible make more sense. Also, futurists tend to as well get off on some tangents when it comes to Revelation - setting dates, attempting to identify who the Antichrist is, etc. I like what Pentecostal evangelist and a distant relative of mine, Perry Stone, once said when he noted that he once knew who the Antichrist was until someone shot him! However, although we cannot know the identity of the Antichrist until his time comes, there is little doubt that a spirit of antichrist has been in operation on the earth for centuries - evil men such as Nero, Sultan Abdul-Hamid, Adolf Hitler, Stalin, the leaders of ISIS, and others have manifested that well. But, to try to identify dates and people is missing the point of the whole story in Revelation, and for that, we need to take a basic course in orthodox Scriptural hermeneutics. Last year, when I was taking my Theology of the Church course in my graduate program at Franciscan University of Steubenville, I had the privilege of sitting under one of the most dynamic and sound theologians I have ever had the privilege of meeting, Dr. Regis Martin. Dr. Martin explained quite simply the historic "Four-Fold Hermeneutic" of Holy Scripture that the Church has historically used, and it works like this:
1. The Literal Sense - This describes a historic person, place, or event, and is foundational. ("the obvious")
2. The Allegorical Sense - This reveals to us truth about Jesus Christ, or doctrine in general ("what we believe")
3. The Moral Sense - This reveals truth about the moral life ("what we do")
4. The Anagogical Sense - This reveals truth about the destiny of our souls ("where we are going")
Revelation presents a sort of unique dilemma however in that despite the foundational attributes of the literal sense, it can be difficult to ascertain and can foray into the controversial if one attempts to do so without first "studying to show oneself approved." As a matter of fact, Revelation is often dismissed in fear and confusion because people who read it can easily come to the conclusion that it reads like the script to a bad 1960's "acid trip." However, God has this enigmatic book in the Bible for a reason, despite the attempts of some over the ages to discard it, and there is truth to be found in its words. In the vision St. John had which inspired Revelation, the literal and spiritual merge, and much of what John did witness in his vision which inspired Revelation is spiritual reality rather than natural reality. For instance, take the Beast in Revelation 13 (which mirrors a similar vision Daniel had in Daniel 7) - the average reader knows such a creature doesn't actually exist, and the Church has correctly understood that to mean a symbol of the political power behind the empires of history. I would go a step further though in saying that this Beast in Revelation 13 may be the actual demonic principality that drove these powers, and as such it could be seen a real spiritual entity, but that is my own interpretation and doesn't necessarily reflect the general consensus of Christian thought. Which leads to this point - several hermeneutical approaches can be simultaneously true at the same time! Also, although the symbolism of things like the Beast in Revelation 13 are of interest, and they accurately (I believe) document prophetic events, the real message of Revelation which needs to be our object of focus is that it offers encouragement to Christians of all ages who undergo tribulation and persecution, and that message transcends time - it offers encouragement regarding present trials, but it is also a voice from the past to the martyrs of the coming Great Tribulation that God is still God, and He is ultimately in control even when Satan's evil rages upon the earth. Therefore, on one level, Dr. Hahn is correct in his interpretation that the literal sense of the book is primarily about the fall of Jerusalem around the year AD 70, and he is correct in that to a degree. However there is this word soon - we see that from the outset in Revelation 1:1, and it reflects on a good observation I heard a Protestant speaker, Dr. Mark Hitchcock, say once when he noted that we as Christians have been in the "last days" since the Ascension of Christ into heaven at the end of Matthew 28, but today we live in the latter part of the last days. "Soon" can and does mean the Second Coming for sure, but it also speaks about the end of a world, not just the world - the "Old Covenant" has been completed in the person of Jesus, and a "New Covenant" has been instituted by Him. And, although the Greek word Parousia is often used exclusively in relation to the Second Coming, the original meaning of this word is "presence," and therefore from that perspective Jesus' Parousia is also a real presence, and thus when we receive His Body and Blood in the Eucharist, it is a real and abiding presence which gives us hope for the day when we can be with Him face-to-face. That is why, as we have emphasized many times in this study, the Church is the kingdom of God now but not yet, and it is therefore the place of the Parousia at every Mass. This then would even give an eschatological dimension we haven't really seen to the doctrine of the Real Presence as we Catholic Christians believe it, and it makes an appreciation for this crowning sacrament of the Church more pronounced.
The next section of this chapter in his book Dr. Hahn subtitles "Of Whores and Wars," and what he is referring to is the dychotomy between the whore riding the beast in Revelation 17 and the "woman clothed with the sun" in Revelation 12. Dr. Hahn interprets these two women as being the "old Jerusalem" (the "Whore" of Revelation 17) being replaced by the "New Jerusalem" (the "Bride" described in Revelation 12 as a "woman clothed with the sun"). His reasoning for coming to this interpretation is that the "Old Jerusalem" was the locus of much of the persecution of the early Christians, as intially the Christians were viewed as sort of a heretical cult by the Jews, and they were treated as such. It wasn't until after AD 70 that pagan persecution of Christians took prominence, and much of that was also directed at Jews as well. This is a valid interpretation, but again it is not primary in that the Church has historically understood Revelation 17 in particular to be an apostate religious system that attacks the Remnant Church during the reign of the Antichrist, but perhaps the legalistic Jewish persecutors foreshadowed that, so both interpretations again can be complimentary instead of contradictory, as we will see with much of Revelation's focus. And, lest an anti-Semitic or "Replacement Theology" justification evolves from an incomplete hermeneutic of such passages (as it unfortunately has at times), it needs to be understood that in the end, the "old" (meaning natural Israel, the Jewish people) will become complete in the "New." Roy Schoemann, in his very excellent study Salvation is of the Jews (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2003) notes on page 131 the significance of what he calls the "Scarlet Thread" in regard to this interpretation. Schoemann notes that an ancient non-canonical Jewish text, the Zohar, documents a ritual the priest did on Yom Kippur in order to seek communal atonement for sins on behalf of the nation. A scarlet thread was involved in this process, and as the Zohar records, if the thread turned white that meant that the priest was successful and therefore the atonement resulting was a cause for rejoicing. This is noted by Schoeman to be a sign from God which is also recorded in Isaiah 1:18, which tells us that "though your sins be like scarlet, they may become white as snow (NKJV). It also is a picture of Revelation 17 and Revelation 12 - the "scarlet" of spiritual harlotry being cleansed white by the High Priest Himself, Jesus Christ, in the pure wedding gown of the Bride. The new cleansing completes the "old," in other words. We are going to be revisiting the role of the Jewish people later, but also we see this a picture traditionally of the sacrament of Holy Baptism too - the scarlet Blood of Christ, shed for our sins, makes us white as snow. It is a powerful reminder of why we can participate in the sacramental life of the Church, and that no merit on our part can make that possible - only the Blood of Jesus, shed for our sins. Praise God too for His great gift to us!
The next section of Hahn's book he has cleverly titled "Times of the Sign" (he does some really clever plays on words with his titles and subtitles, and it does get one's attention!). In this section, Dr. Hahn is going back to Revelation 6:1-8, which contains the image of the "Four Horsemen." Traditionally, these four horsemen represented religious/political deception (White), war (Red), famine (Black), and death and pestilence (Pale). In verse 8, let's talk about this "pale horse" a little - the Greek word used in the original translations is the word kloros, which translates as a sickly greenish palor that one has when terminally ill. It is the same word, ironically, that we get the modern chemical name chorine from, and what is more interesting about that is that chlorine has that pale color, but it also is used as an antiseptic to kill germs in its commercial form, bleach. The renown Jewish historian Flavius Josephus, in his work The Jewish War, would have probably concurred with this interpretation as he was an eyewitness to the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70, and what he wrote about it is actually quite gruesome but factual. In one section of this work entitled "Horrors of Jerusalem," Josephus writes that "all hope of escape and all food supplies were now cut off from the Jews, and famine devoured thousands upon thousands." (Paul L. Maier, trans., Josephus - The Essential Writings. Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1988. p. 358). He also writes that the Emperor Titus observed as he made his rounds that valleys were choked with dead corpses oozing decay, and that countless numbers of Jews died of humger, and in every house where there was the least morsel of food, it was fought over (ibid.). It got to be so bad, Josephus continues, that mothers drowned their own infants! This mirrors some similar conquests in the Old Testament, particularly documented in Lamentations at around the time of the Babylonian conquest of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar, and Jeremiah 14:22 talks about that when the Prophet writes "And the people to whom they prophesy shall be cast out in the streets of Jerusalem because of the famine and the sword; they will have no one to bury them nor their wives, their sons nor their daughters - for I will pour their wickedness on them," and in verse 18 it continues with "and if I enter the city then behold, those sick from famine!" Jeremiah 16:4 gives a more graphic description of what happened in the day Nebuchadnezzar conquered Jerusalem when it says "They shall die gruesome deaths; they shall not be lamented nor shall they be buried, but they shall be like refuse upon the face of the earth. They shall be consumed by the sword and famine, and their corpses shall be meat for the birds of heaven and for the beasts of the earth." Anyone who has lived in an area that is a horrific war zone, even today, knows that what is described in Revelation 6 is an obvious sequence of events you have in war and calamity - a conquering leader rides victoriously on a "white horse,"either literal or figurative, and at his command armies attack. When this happens, conditions created by these battles create famine, and famine then leads to pestilence, as the lack of healthy food and water, not to mention the stench and decay of corpses that cannot be properly disposed of, produce disease - war zones are large petri dishes of the nastiest infections and plagues to afflict mankind, and this is what I believe Josephus and the Prophet Jeremiah both witnessed, as has also been witnessed by untold numbers throughout history. Therefore, the word kloros could very easily be interpreted to mean "plague" or "pestilence" as opposed to outright death, although people who contract these plagues, without the proper medical attention, automatically have an irrevocable death sentence upon them as a result. The interesting thing recorded in history, as Dr. Hahn notes in his book, is that despite the hellish conditions of the siege of Jerusalem in AD 70, not one Christian perished - many Christians, as Hahn noted, had already fled Jerusalem, many going to an Edomite city called Pella. This then leads to something in Revelation 7:1-4 - the "Seal" of the 144,000. If looking at this from a futurist perspective, the traditional viewpoint is that this represents a Remnant of Jews during the Tribulation which is protected from the intense persecution of the Antichrist. I would not dismiss that, as again Revelation transcends timeframes and can mean simultaneous things to whatever generation reads it. And, as we're going to see momentarily, God is not exactly finished with the Jews yet either, and therefore a futuristic dimension to this passage is definitely valid. However, Dr. Hahn in his text leads us to something more fascinating on a sacramental dimension. We first need to look at this "seal" - what is it?? Dr. Hahn notes on page 97 of his text that this "seal" was on the forehead, and he references Ezekiel 9:2-4, which denotes that the "seal" in Hebrew is called a tau, which can be transliterated as the Greek letter t. Guess what that resembles?? Correct - the Sign of the Cross!! Even among the secular Franciscan orders today - I noted this at our diocesan Synod with our order of lay Franciscans - the crucifix is often a stylized t that these brothers wear. "Sealing," although in later centuries used for the anointing of oil during the Sacrament of Chrismation (Confirmation), was understood by the early Christians to allude to the sacrament of Baptism. This leads us to a valuable lesson about how Revelation transcends time and application in that although believers are often battling against persecution (note Ephesians 6), we never fight alone! This is why too that as a Church, we are "members unto one another," (Romans 12:5 NKJV) and the Church too transcends generation. Bottom line is this - if we are in Christ, no matter what hits us, we win! Again, this goes back to Romans 8:28 too. Understanding that dimension of Revelation makes the book less frightening and confusing and offers us more hope.
I now want to talk about "Spiritual Semites," to use Dr. Hahn's subheading on page 99 of his text. The first important part of this to understand is that despite how some have interpreted it over the centuries, Revelation is not anti-Semitic! As a matter of fact, St. John's words make no sense if Israel is not the firstborn of all nations. In Revelation 2:5, we note that Jesus Himself warned the church at Ephesus to "remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place - unless you repent." When Titus conquered Jerusalem in AD 70, he made a memorial to his own ego on the Arch of Titus in Rome, and one of the things it shows is the Romans carrying off the menorah from the Temple as a spoil of war. As the Jews understood this, to remove that lampstand was tantamount to the removal of God's very presence from the nation, and many Jewish converts to the Christian faith understood that, which is why Jesus spoke through the Apostle John to write this. The warning in the verse was that if we as a Church (or more specifically, the Ephesian Christians) don't change our ways, we will suffer the same fate. We still have this symbolism on the altars in our Anglican Catholic parishes today, as on every altar are two candlesticks - the one on the left is the Gospel candle, while the one on the right is the Epistle candle. The Epistle is always lighted first prior to Mass starting, and the Gospel light is always extinguished last because, as has been traditionally taught, the Gospel never stands alone, but is for all. Therefore, it also means that the light of the Gospel burns in us, and if we ever allow it to be extinguished, God leaves us. Unfortunately, there are some futuristic warnings for the Church that we can learn from the first-century Jews, and they are these - we are letting our lights die. There are ways this was said to happen, and from Scripture here are some of them:
1. II Thessalonians 2:11 - God allows a strong delusion to be sent upon those professing Christianity.
2. I Timothy 4:1-3 - The Great Apostasy at the end times
3. II Timothy 3 - A detailed list of signs of the Great Apostasy
4. Ephesians 6:13 - A mandate to be clad with the whole "armor of God," so that when this "evil day" (which I believe to be this Apostasy) comes, we as the Remnant will be prepared to face it.
5. Revelation 3:14-17 - Let us look to the Laodicean Church as a warning that our spiritual complacency could imperil us.
That being said, there is a teaching in the Church that one day a Great Apostasy will happen in which many who profess Christianity will fall away from the faith, and the majority of these fallen-away people will be from the Gentile nations - this is called the "Fullness of the Gentiles" in Scripture, and can be found in Romans 11:25. At this same point in time will also be a mass conversion of Jews to the teachings of Christ, as many will come to understand that Jesus is the One that their own Scriptures promised would come to them. This is a fairly accepted truth that Christians in both the Eastern and Western traditions hold, and it has some elaborations to it. For one, many Fathers of the Church, including St. Jerome and others, say that for centuries the Jews have had a temporary blindness to the truth of the Gospel so that Gentiles could be evangelized (Desmond Birch, Trial, Tribulation, and Triumph. Goleta, CA: Queenship Publishing, 1997. p. 418). Roy Schoemann elaborates on this further in his book when he notes that Jesus Himself prophesied this in Matthew 23:37-39, as he notes that God Himself "darkened" the eyes of the Jews for a season so that salvation could be preached to the Gentiles, and therefore the Jewish rejection of Jesus is not the end of the story (Schoemann, p. 321-322). However, as many in the Church begin to apostatize and fall away, many Jews will begin to be converted to the truths of Christianity - the Catechism of the Catholic Church even teaches that the Second Coming cannot occur until the conversion of all Israel (note CCC 674, as well as Birch, p. 419 and Romans 11:12, 15, 25). An Eastern Father, Blessed Theophilact of Bulgaria, likewise notes in his writings that the conversion of the Jews to Christ will evoke the "most intense malice" from the Antichrist against the Remnant Church, which is now inclusive of the converted Jews, and this leads to the start of the Great Tribulation - this also corresponds I believe with the "Abomination of Desolation," when the Antichrist declares himself to be a god in the Jewish Temple, that Scripture documents in Matthew 24:15. Antichrist will demand that people worship him as a "god," and when people refuse, it becomes a capital offense, which is where the intense persecution that Bl. Theophilact talks about comes in (Lazar Puhalo, ed. The Beginning and the End. Dewdney, British Columbia: Synaxis Press, 1972. p. 42). In recent decades we have been witnessing a huge influx of Jewish converts to Christianity, both among Protestants (via the Messianic Judaism movement that hearkens back to the 1960's) and Catholics (via the lay apostolate, the Association of Hebrew Catholics, founded by Jewish-born Carmelite priest Fr. Elias Friedman in the early 1980's). It also correlates with the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948 - regardless of one's views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Israel is an inescapable fact, and as God allowed it He must have his reasons. One of those reasons we should seriously consider is that maybe God is gathering the Jews to an accessible point so that they may have the Gospel collectively presented to them at some point, who knows? At any rate, this leads to something very important.
It has been common over the life of the Church for generations to embrace the idea that the Church is the "New Israel," and that somehow the Church has replaced the Jewish people as the "Chosen." To an extent, this is true, but at times this reasoning has been used by some in the name of Christ to engage in heinous acts of anti-Semitism. It is important that we refrain from falling into that heresy, also called revocationism or "Replacement Theology," because to do so puts one at a serious risk. First of all, despite their temporary collective rejection of Jesus, He has had His hand on His people (yes, Jesus was born a Jew, in case some didn't get that memo!) and in many cases, as Fr. Elias Friedman notes in his seminal 1987 book Jewish Identity (New York: The Miriam Press), the suffering of the Jewish people mirrors Christ's own sufferings - Friedman, for instance on page 124, likens the Holocaust that happened to the Jews under Hitler to the Crucifixion, while the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948 is like a sort of Resurrection. On page 130 of his text, Fr. Friedman quotes St. Chrysostom who says "Seeing the Gentiles abusing little by little their grace, God will recall a second time the Jews." And, it also should be remembered that the Great Apostasy is synonymous with the collapse of Christendom, not the disappearance of Christianity - there will always be a faithful Remnant! Therefore, we can conclude by a consensus of Church teaching over the centuries that the coming Great Apostasy of the Gentile Church will be simultaneous with what is called the Accession of the Jews (meaning their acceptance of Christ and conversion to His message). That being said, one cannot be a good Catholic Christian until one has fallen in love with the religion and people of Israel (Hahn, p. 100). And, as late Eastern Orthodox writer, Fr. Lev Gillet, wrote in his 1942 classic Communion in the Messiah (Cambridge, UK: James Clarke and Co., 1942), "A true Christian and a true Israelite communicate in the same Messiah. This communion is partial and implicit. God will make it one day total and explicit." (Gillet, p. 196). The ulitimate communion of Jew and Gentile believer will come, therefore, when Christ comes for His Bride, His Church, but we can see it begin now and in the celebration of the Holy Eucharist we can be one and the same as we are baptized by the same baptism (Ephesians 4:8) - the 19th-century Anglican priest and herald of spiritual renewal, Rev. James Haldane Stewart, also noted in his writings that "Jew and Gentile shall become one fold, under one Shepherd." (James Haldane Stewart, Sermons Specifically Designed to Strengthen the Faith and Increase the Devotedness of Christians in the Present Remarkable Era. London: Ellerton and Henderson, 1829. P. 410). Now, how the Great Apostasy shall happen? Let us discuss that in conclusion.
We need to understand that apostasy happens when Christians become too confortable with the New Covenant, especially with the grace it bestows. The lesson in Revelation 3 of the Laodiceans warns us of this complacency, and when people start being "too confortable," this tends to breed heretical doctrines and cultural conformity - are we not seeing that today?? When the destruction of Jerusalem happened in AD 70, it caused a lot of anxiety both for the resident Jewish population as well as the fledgling Christian community. But, here was the thing - it also made both communities realize some things. For Christians, this meant looking at Mount Zion in a new light - Jesus had, after all, instituted the Eucharist on Mount Zion. Therefore, when the fact that the "Real Presence" of Jesus was a sort of Parousia
The Mass is first and foremost where Christians join together with other Christians and the angels and saints to worship God. It is also where the Church received the "hidden manna" in times of trial (Rev. 2:17). The Mass is also where the prayers of the saints on earth rose like incense to join the prayers of the angels in heaven - hence the reason why Guardini wrote that the petition "Thy will be done" is the gateway petition of the whole Lord's Prayer. And, in every age, the Church has faced persecutions - in modern times it is twofold. In the Middle East, for instance, the demonic forces of radical Islam (personified in its current form as ISIS) are literally slaughtering and martyring untold numbers of Assyrian, Coptic, and other Christians. In the West, it is a growing secularist agenda, nourished by decades of teaching the false "gospel" of evolution and the gradual removal of God and Judeo-Christian ethical norms from our society, which has now even led to the persecution of people such as Kent Hovind, who was imprisoned 9 years under a trumped-up charge of "structuring" which essentially was a godless judge abusing laws directed at drug dealers and terrorists to target Christian ministries. Or, it is persecuting Christian businesses - who can set standards for how they conduct businesses they invest in - for not selling wedding cakes to "gay" couples based on their Christian convictions against doing so. Or, it is egotistical, corrupt lesbian bureaucrats in Houston, TX, who overstep their bounds by trying to "edit" what pastors preach in the pulpits of their churches. Persecution is persecution, regardless of if it comes by litigation or the sword, and Christians have been targeted by Satan for persecution since the Church was birthed. But, we also need to be encouraged that such efforts will ultimately fail, because GOD is in control of the events of the believer's life (Romans 8:28). And, we as the Church, the army of the Agnus Dei, draw strength ultimately from the banquet of heaven, the Eucharist. God bless you all until next time.