The Incredulity of Saint Thomas, Caravaggio,
c. 1603, Sanssouci, Potsdam, Germany
(About this Image)
Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands,
and bring your hand and put it into my side,
and do not be unbelieving, but believe.”
Thomas answered and said to him, “My Lord and my God!”
Fr. Smith’s Commentary on the Second Reading
Second Sunday of Easter
April 24, 2022
The “Book of Revelation” is a source of great confusion and imaginative if usually erroneous speculation. Some of the latter has been so amusing that the great English convert and writer G. K. Chesterton wrote: “Though St John the Evangelist saw many strange monsters in his vision, he saw no creature so wild as one of his own commentators.” (Chesterton, Orthodoxy) This is quite unfortunate as Revelations has much to offer us, indeed some of it very practical and contemporary.
The place to begin is with its very name. It is often called “The Apocalypse.” In popular usage, this means the end times with usually a bloody conflagration. The original meaning, however, is “unveiling.” This was a genre of writing. A person would read an apocalypse not to be confused or bewildered about the future, but to be instructed on how to live now and prepare for the future. The Christians who originally read “The Book of Revelation” would have expected to have layers of misinformation and fake news unraveled and true meaning revealed. The images that we find so bewildering and intimidating would have been part of their culture. If there was any attempt to mystify or obscure, it would have been not for fellow Christians but for the Roman authorities. This was during a time of Roman persecution. The closest analogy I can think of is video games. Our younger parishioners know every character and devise in them, but they are a total mystery to me. They are the Christians, and I am the Roman authority. We see further difficulty if we imagine someone trying to decipher Minecraft a millennium hence. Similarly,some parts of “The Book of Revelation” will remain obscure. The sections chosen for our Easter readings; however, are not among them and their message will be truly clear: the resurrection of Jesus unveils the meaning of all history and existence.
Let us begin.
I, John, your brother, who share with you
the distress, the kingdom,
and the endurance we have in Jesus,
found myself on the island called Patmos
because I proclaimed God’s word
and gave testimony to Jesus.
We are uncertain who “John” is. He could be John the beloved disciple or not but what is most important is that he calls himself a brother, one of them, and is on Patmos. Patmos was a prison island, and he is there for “Proclaiming God’s word and giving testimony to Jesus” He can thus legitimately share with his readers the distress of which he speaks. The first practical effect from his writing is to encourage “Endurance.” Endurance here is not merely to accept misfortune with patience until the end but assumes faithfulness to Jesus. It is not only what is being done but why and for whom.
This includes John. He is not writing this on his own volition. He says that
I was caught up in spirit on the Lord’s day
and heard behind me a voice
as loud as a trumpet
He is being commissioned by the LORD for this task. Like the prophets of the Old Testament, he was directly and unambiguously ordered and empowered by God. He is not to withhold this knowledge but to write it down and share it with the “seven churches.” These were churches on a common road. In some ways this is a circular letter, i.e., one that is written to several locations but with the same message. Indeed, in sections we will not read in Church, he addresses each of them. Seven however is a sign of completeness and we can assume that Revelations was addressed to the church throughout the world.
Then I turned to see
whose voice it was that spoke to me,
and when I turned,
I saw seven gold lampstand
and in the midst of the lampstands
one like a son of man,
wearing an ankle-length robe,
with a gold sash around his chest.
We again see the number 7, this time for lampstands. This is meant to remind us of the menorah. The seven branched candlestand that Jewish priests were commanded to keep burning in the temple to honor the presence of God. It is much like the sanctuary candle in church. Here it honors the “Son of Man.”
A characteristic of the Book of revelation” is the thickness of references to the Old Testament. Indeed, it is the New Testament book most dependent on the Old Testament. It would be impossible to list all the references so we will only quote the most important.
The Book of Daniel contains “apocalyptic” elements, The most important reveals the Son of Man:
I saw one like a Son of Man
coming with the clouds of heaven.
And he came to the Ancient One
and was presented before him.
To him was given dominion
and glory and kingship,
that all peoples, nations, and languages
should serve him.
His dominion is an everlasting dominion
that shall not pass away,
and his kingship is one
that shall never be destroyed.
The ankle length robe is the sign of a priest and the sash around his chest is a sign of power.
John reaction to this is “to fall at his feet as if dead.” This too reflects the book of Daniel
Then I heard the sound of his words;
and when I heard the sound of his words,
I fell into a trance, face to the ground
John is quickly reminded that this is Jesus who is revealed to him and that he will be an active part in the lives of Christians as individuals and as a community,
Do not be afraid.
I am the first and the last,
the one who lives.
Once I was dead,
but now I am alive forever and ever.
I hold the keys to death and the netherworld.
We are first reminded of the LORD’S eternal and all-powerful care for us:
Thus says the LORD, the King of Israel,
and his Redeemer, the LORD of hosts:
I am the first and I am the last;
besides me there is no god.
This power is beyond measure but truly caring. The Lord Jesus is so great that he holds the power of life and death and so loving, as we will see through this book, that he will use it to give us life.
This section concludes with what is needed to understand the whole book.
Write down, therefore, what you have seen,
and what is happening,
and what will happen afterwards.
The resurrection of Jesus is the key to all understanding. John’s countless quotes and references to the Old Testament will show that Jesus’ resurrection reveals their deepest meaning. Our lives as well can only be understood through the resurrection, and we should expect that reading it will provide greater clarity. Finally, it will give us an inkling of what may be expected in the future.
We will read the Book of Revelations until Pentecost and in these seven weeks we will see and, if read with prayer experience, the power and beauty of the resurrection. We read it best when we join John not in deciphering a verbal code but in singing a victory hymn.