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Church of the future. That Church he foresaw was divisible into seven periods, each requiring a separate message of warning. The problem was an extremely difficult one. The chief thing to be avoided in warning the Churches of the future was to give them names that would rivet attention on local Churches. If the Letters had been addressed to the leading Churches of S. John's time, Jerusalem, Rome or Antioch, for example, it would be difficult to escape the conclusion that they were intended for those Churches. The system adopted, of giving the Churches the names of the cities met with in sequence on the Roman road circulating in S. John's district, was so obviously conventional, that it would tend to dissipate the idea that the Letters were meant for the local Churches. If these cities had names corresponding in a way with the chief characteristics of the Churches of the future, that was an advantage. If the local Churches named, were to work out a record unlike that of Revelation addressed to them, and were to be extinguished in the Middle Ages, that would be an additional advantage. They could not then be mistaken for the Churches of Revelation. We know the prophetic warnings concerning them follow the analogy of the prophecies of the Old Law as regards mysteriousness. And we know also that we are warned at the end of each, Letter to study them deeply, as a mystery to be unravelled, for that is the meaning of “ He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith to the Churches.”
The question arises, how would the followers of S. John and the servants of God, in his own day, take the Letters? They were men who knew Greek, but thought in Hebrew. They appreciated the esoteric character of the whole Book, and would be prepared to take the Letters as symbolic. Besides they knew the condition of the Churches named, how they were recently formed, immature Churches, without any special history, in some places without chief bishops corresponding to the Angels of the Churches. They knew also the conditions of the cities, how they were pagan cities in which the idolatries and vices of Greece and Rome were unhappily blended. Practically the Christians in all those cities were subject to the same environment and the same temptations. One circular letter would have sufficed for them all. It is commonly believed that S. Paul's Epistle to the Ephesians, was, in fact, a circular letter to the local Churches. “The words, év 'Edéow, in the first verse of the Epistle do not belong to the primitive text” (P. Ladeuze, Ephesians in Cath. Encyc.). This Epistle, written probably about A.D. 62, does not moreover correspond in any way with the Revelation Letters of A.D. 67.
A very curious thing happened to S. Paul, not many years
before the Letters appeared, which would in a manner have prepared the brethren to question the importance of the Seven Churches of Asia.
When S. Paul and Barnabas went forth to preach to the Gentiles, having "passed through Phrygia, and the country of Galatia, they were forbidden by the Holy Ghost to preach the word of God in Asia. And when they were come into Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia : and the spirit of Jesus permitted them not” (Acts xvi. 6, 7).
This very startling incident in the history of the early Church had been reported to the “ brethren" at Jerusalem. It was well known to all. And there must have been some speculation amongst them as to the reason why S. Paul was turned away from the country of the Seven Churches of Asia. A mysterious mark was placed against those Churches. It was a mystery to the brethren, and it prepared them for the mystery of the Churches. . . . TÒ uvotņplov ... Tàs értà luxvías (R. i. 20).
The brethren knew that the Letters were symbolical. But it is not probable that they understood their true significance, excepting those to whom the Book was sent–S. Simeon of Jerusalem, and S. Paul at Rome. Could S. John explain to the brethren that the local Churches, from Ephesus to Laodicea, in which they were zealously labouring, were destined to fall into heresy and decay ? Could he reveal the heresies of the future to them ? Could he tell them of the Moslem Power that would destroy these Churches in the middle ages, not only the Churches, but the great cities of Ephesus and Laodicea ?' The curiosity of the Brethren once aroused would prompt these and a host of other questions.
There is no evidence that S. John told anyone about the meaning of the Letters. The most illuminating incident in the history of these Letters is furnished by the attitude of the local Churches, from Ephesus to Laodicea, towards them. A celebrated Council of the Church was held at Laodicea in the year 360, when these Churches had attained their full development. It was attended by the Bishops of Asia Minor, amongst them the Angels or Bishops of the Seven Churches to whom these Letters were addressed. They had ample time to study the connection between the Letters and the Churches. An opportunity was then afforded them of showing how they valued the Letters. They dropped the whole Book of Revelation, Letters and all, out of the Canon of the Scriptures. The Apocalypse of S. John does not appear in Canon 60 of the Synod of Laodicea (C. 3, 606). The meaning of that is plain. The men on the spot, who had the best means of testing the Letters, and who from their position as Bishops of the local Churches, were
bound to examine the question reverently and closely, came to the conclusion that the Letters were not intended for the Churches. These Letters are a Christian Prophecy comparable to that given to the Jews by the Prophets of the Old Law. So far as the Church is concerned the Letters are the most important part of the whole Book of Revelation. The events foretold in the Jewish theme, the Roman theme, and the millennium have passed away. But the Letters to Philadelphia and Laodicea concern the present generation.
The Letters are drawn up on a common sevenfold plan, comprehensive in character. They are the only portion of the Book, dictated to S. John, word by word, by God.
First. They are addressed to the Angels or bishops of the Churches, in prophetic style.
Second. They are introduced by some very significant attribute, taken from the vision of our Lord in the Preface.
Third. Every Letter continues, “I know thy works” or “thy labours," or some other distinguishing character of the Church addressed.
Fourth. The chief characteristics of the Church, good or bad, are briefly outlined.
Fifth. Praise or blame is meted out to the Churches, and rewards or punishments are predicted for them.
Sixth. The Churches are exhorted to do penance or hold fast the faith they have received.
Seventh. Every Letter ends thus, “ He that hath an ear let him hear what the Spirit saith to the Churches."
THE PLAN AND SYMBOLISM OF REVELATION
The Revelation of S. John is divisible naturally into seven parts. 1. The Preface. 2. The Letters to the Seven Churches. 3. The Jewish Theme. 4. The Roman Theme. 5. The Millennium and final struggles of the Church. 6. The Judgment. 7. Paradise. It ends with an Epilogue.
Part I. Consists of the Title Page of the Book; its general preface and a special preface to the Letters to the Seven Churches. (Chapter I.)
Part II. Contains the Letters to the Angels of the Seven Churches. (Chapters II. and III.)
Part III. Relates chiefly to the Jews. It has interludes, as will be seen from the following synopsis of its Chapters.
Chapter IV. Vision of the throne of God. The Jewish prophecies are contained in a book with Seven Seals.
Ch. V. The first four seals are opened disclosing our Lord as a Conqueror, followed by war, famine, pestilence, and death. We are invited to notice that these are the active agents of God's wrath in the following Chapters of the Book.
Ch. VI. The fifth seal shows the martyrs crying to heaven for vengeance. They are told to wait till their roll is complete. Then follows the Sixth Seal, a vision of the completion of the martyrs' roll.
Ch. VII. An interlude in which Hebrew Christians are protected by the sign of the Cross from the vengeance which is about to fall upon the Jews.
Ch. VIII. The Seventh Seal relates to vengeance upon the Jews. From it proceed seven woe trumpets. The first four trumpets bring dire calamities upon the Jews.
Ch. IX. The fifth trumpet looses the spirits of the bottomless pit upon the Jews. Then follows a vision of vengeance upon Rome, contained in the sixth trumpet.
Ch. X. Continues the Roman interlude. S. John is given a little open book and is told to digest its contents, and to prophesy about many nations and peoples and tongues and Kings.
Ch. XI. Takes us back to Jerusalem, where two witnesses appear and exhort the Jews to repentance. They are slain. An earthquake destroys the city. The Seventh Angel sounds his trumpet, and the end of the Jewish Covenant is indicated.
Part IV. Cæsar worship and the punishment of Rome.
Ch. XII. The Roman theme begins with a preface of its own-a vision of the Church as a woman in labour, and Satan, the dragon, trying to destroy her. The woman is saved and Satan departs to make war on the rest of her seed.
Ch. XIII. A Beast arises from the sea, typifying the Roman Empire. The dragon gives him his own strength and power. A lamb-like beast, typical of the pagan hierarchy, arises from the earth, and makes the earth worship the Beast, whose number is 666.
Ch. XIV. The martyrs appear in heaven rejoicing. Their cry for vengeance on Rome is heard. Angels proclaim the hour of judgment on Rome. The Son of Man appears with a sickle. The harvest of the pagan Empire is reaped, and the winepress of God's wrath is trodden down and overflows with blood.
Ch. XV. Seven angels appear with the seven last plagues of God's wrath upon Rome. The martyrs sing a song of triumph.
Ch. XVI. The vials of God's wrath are poured out upon men having the mark of the Beast, upon the Beast, and upon his throne. They blaspheme God, and repent not. The Dragon, the Beast, and the False-prophet, collect armies for a final effort, the battle of Armagedon.
Ch. XVII. One of the seven angels explains the meaning of the symbols. The woman, “ Babylon" is Rome; the Beast is the line of Cæsar Gods, particularly Nero; and the horns of the Beast are Kings who shall destroy Rome.
Ch. XVIII. A glorious angel proclaims the fall of Rome. A picture of the burning and desolation of Rome follows. Heaven, the apostles and prophets are told to rejoice because God has executed His judgment on Rome.
Ch. XIX. The martyrs rejoice, because the Church is free. The Church appears as a bride. Heaven is opened and the Lord and His army ride forth to the battle of Armagedon. The Beast and the False prophet are taken and cast into hell.
Part V. The Millennium and afterwards.
Ch. XX. Satan is chained up for a thousand years, and then loosed for "a little time.” He causes the nations to surround “the camp of the saints" and "the beloved city." He is cast down to hell and his armies destroyed.
Part VI. The General Judgment.