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APOCALYPSE OF S. JOHN
LIFE OF S. JOHN THE Apocalypse of S. John is in the canon of the Bible, recognised by the Church as the Word of God. It describes itself officially as “The Revelation of Jesus Christ.” The precise nature of its revelation is a question that has been asked and has been variously answered for eighteen hundred years. The Book was written in a cypher, the Key of which was lost at the end of the first century.
Experience teaches us that the best guide to exegesis lies in the study of the environment of the writer. A clear realisation of his position in relation to surrounding forces will best indicate his thoughts and designs, the aim and object of his writings.
To apply this method to the study of the Apocalypse we begin with a review of the life of its author, S. John the Evangelist, his relation to the “Son of Man;" his sufferings, travels, experiences, anxieties, outlook, aims, and all other contemporary matters which may throw light on the Revelation that bears his name.
The name John, in Hebrew, signifies " Jehovah hath been gracious.” We gather from his Gospel (i. 35-42) that S. John was originally a follower of the Baptist, and that he walked with Jesus as a disciple for a time, before his final call to the Apostleship (Jhn. ii. 12, iv. 8). When our Lord chose from the hardy fishermen of the Sea of Galilee, the companions of His ministry, He called S. John to be one of His great Apostles. John, the son of Zebedee and Salome, was mending nets in his father's ship with his brother James, when our Lord called them. “ Forthwith they left their nets and father and followed
him” (Matt. iv. 21-22). S. John was probably of the tribe of Zabulon, derived according to Genesis (xxx. 20), from the sixth son of Liah. The verse offers two etymologies of the name Zabulon, from the roots Z BD, “give," and Z BL,"inhabit (Encyc. Brit. Zebulun). Son of Zebedee seems to claim the root Z B D The eastern boundary of the country of Zabulon was near the Lake of Galilee. The sons of Zabulon were a seafaring people. “ Zabulon shall dwell on the sea shore, and in the road of ships” (Gen. xlix. 13). Cetron was within its boundaries (Judg. i. 30). S. Matthew writes : “And leaving the city of Nazareth he came and dwelt in Capharnaum on the sea coast, in the borders of Zabulon and of Nepthalim ” (iv. 13). The sea coast referred to is that of Galilee.
S. John and his family seem to have been fairly well to do. Zebedee employed hired servants. Salome contributed to the support of our Lord. S. John was part owner of his ship (Luke v. 10). His “ship” was a large open boat with lateen sails, capable of holding more than a dozen men (Matt. viii. 23). The same kind of ship still sails the sea of Galilee.
S. John was the chosen friend and companion of our Lord. His innocence, his sublime faith and strength of character, seem to have conduced to this privilege. He was probably also about the same age, or but little younger than our Lord, as parity of age is one of the recognised causes of companionship. Besides, resolute and seasoned men were wanted to help in the labours and privations of the ministry; men in the prime of life, fit to carry the cross to the ends of the earth, and able to preach the Gospel. The Apostles were chosen as preachers. "He made that twelve should be with him and that he might send them to preach” (Mark iii. 14). The Jews were very exacting as regards the age of preachers or teachers, wherefore it is at least probable that S. John was not much under thirty years of age, when he was called.
S. John and his brother S. James, were early named Boanerges, " which is the sons of thunder” (Mark iii. 17). Some modern philologists equate the word with "filled with the rushing Spirit of the Holy Ghost," connecting it with the idea of prophecy—as John, " the prophet.” In the Book of Revelation, S. John is twice saluted as a prophet, by an angel (R. xix. 10, xxii. 9). Both S. James and S. John were given an official preference by our Lord. S. John seems to have been placed on a level next to S. Peter, above the rest of the Apostles. These three went up with Jesus on a high mountain, apart, and witnessed the Transfiguration (Matt. xvii. 1-2). Some reflection of this vision will be found in the description of the Son of Man, in the Revelation (R. i. 13-15). Again, apart,
they heard from our Lord the_Temple prophecy. He told them of the destruction of the Temple and of the signs which would presage that event. And with an eye on S. John, perhaps, who was destined to see those days, He said, “Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, and those who are in the midst therof, depart out; and those who are in the countries, not enter into it” (Luke xxi. 21). S. John took these instructions to heart.
Bossuet remarks that prophecies have always been fulfilled by natural means, so that the living actors in the events predicted, have been too preoccupied with their parts to notice their relation to prophecy. When Titus besieged Jerusalem the Jews failed to recognise that their hour had come. Even Simeon and the Nazarene Church needed a warning to flee to Pella. That warning they received from S. John, in the Book of Revelation, which was sent to them early in the year 67 A.D.
S. Peter and S. John went forward to prepare the last supper. When our Lord said to the Apostles that one of them would betray Him, S. Peter beckoned to one of the disciples who was leaning on the bosom of Jesus, whom Jesus loved, and asked him to inquire who was the betrayer. “ He therefore leaning on the breast of Jesus said to him. Lord, who is it? Jesus answered. He it is to whom I shall reach bread dipped. And when He had dipped the bread, he gave it to Judas Iscariot" (Jhn. xiii. 24-27). This episode shows the extraordinary privilege of S. John.
S. John walked with our Lord. He noted the murderous hatred of the Jews, and frequently alludes to it in his Gospel (Jhn. v. 18, vii. 1, viii. 37, 59, X. 31, xi. 53). On the night of the Agony, he was in the garden of Gethsemane. He followed our Lord to the court of Annas, and entered it, as he “was known to the high priest.” “But Peter stood at the door without.” He spoke to the portress and brought S. Peter in. (Jhn. xviii. 15, 16.) This action naturally suggests that S. John was a superior person. But in the Acts we are told that he and S. Peter were both looked upon as “ignorant men” (Acts iv. 13). S. John's writings show him to have been a man of culture, on a par with Josephus. Later, outside the hall of Pilate, he heard the Jews cry out, “Not this man but Barabbas" (Jhn. xviii. 40). “Crucify him, Crucify him” (Jhn. xix. 6). He witnessed the sufferings on the Cross. Our Saviour seeing “his mother and the disciple standing, whom he loved, he saith to his mother, Woman behold thy son. After that he saith to the disciple Behold thy mother. And from that hour the disciple took her to his own ” (Jhn. xix. 26-27). Our Saviour conferred upon
S. John the supreme honour of being His substitute on earth in regard to the care of His Mother.
After the death of our Saviour S. John saw the soldier open His side with a spear. This action he recalls in the Revelation (R. i. 7) and in his Gospel (xix. 34).
All these things, related by S. John, in his Gospel, must have coloured his mental outlook as regards the Jews. The note of vengeance is prominent in the Apocalypse. We shall recur to that hereafter.
SS. Peter and John were informed by Mary Magdalen that the tomb of our Lord was empty, and these two went to examine it. (Jhn. xx. 2, 4.) After the Resurrection, once more upon the shore of Galilee, the disciple whom Jesus loved followed Him, and S. Peter asked, “Lord what shall this man do? Jesus saith to him, So I will have him to remain till I come.” This saying, therefore, went abroad among the brethren that that disciple should not die. (Jhn. xxi. 20-23.) It is evident that the brethren did not think that S. John would live for centuries. They thought that the second Coming would not be long delayed, and that it would occur in S. John's lifetime. After the Resurrection the Apostles asked our Lord, “ Lord wilt thou at this time restore again the Kingdom to Israel ?" (Acts i. 6).
The early Church at Jerusalem, retained most of the distinctive customs of the Jews, such as circumcision, kosher meats, the Jewish Sabbath, the Jewish rites, and worship of the Temple. Our Lord, Himself, lived the exterior life of a Jew, even so far as the observance of Jewish religious customs was concerned. The early Church of Jerusalem followed His example. The Jews looked upon the Hebrew Christians in Jerusalem simply as a Jewish sect, which they called the sect of the Nazarenes. Tertullus, pleading before Felix, the Governor, described S. Paul as "the author of the sedition of the sect of the Nazarenes” (Acts xxiv. 5). S. John was a leader of the Nazarenes. He is said by Polycrates to have worn the métalov or sacerdotal headpiece of a high priest. It was a plate of the finest gold having engraved upon it, “The Holy of the Lord" (Exod. xxxix. 29). This shows his position in the Nazarene Church, and the Jewish complexion of that Church.
S. John celebrated the Christian Pasch on the 14th day of the moon, agreeing as to time with the Jewish “ Passover" (S. Irenæus I. iii. 12, Euseb. H. E. v. 24). The early Hebrew Christians looked upon themselves as true Jews and upon their brethren who rejected the Messias as false Jews. They were not called Christians at Jerusalem (Acts xxiv. 5). That name was assumed or acquired by the Gentile disciples at Antioch. So long as worship according to the Old Law continued in the