Visions, vindication and victory: the strange world of the Apocalypse

This post is in the series Rite Reading.

The Revelation to John, also known as the Apocalypse, contains seven letters, which make up the second and third chapters. However, it is not itself a letter, but the only New Testament book which as a whole is in the literary genre of apocalyptic. This is a type of literary description of visions that claim to unveil the meaning of history for those in the know.1 They often contain the metaphor of a journey through heavenly or spiritual realms with a guide. The vision at the heart of the Apocalypse is that the soft power of the Lamb’s self-sacrifice will be triumphant over the hard power of the mighty Roman empire. While readings from this book are used on a number of feast days,1 Revelation also provides the second reading for the Sundays of Easter in Year C. Its celebration of Christ’s triumph draws out a key aspect of the Easter gospel.

Readers are somewhat prone to introducing readings from this book wrongly. It is the Book of Revelation in the singular, not Revelations in the plural. The book itself claims to be the record of a single revelation, handed from God to Jesus and from Jesus via an angel to his servant John. There is only one secret to be unveiled: the triumph of God over evil through the cross of Christ.

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The material reality of love: the letters of John

This post is in the series Rite Reading.

Although there are three letters which bear John’s name, the second and third are very short, and perhaps show something of how the teaching of the longer letter is put into action in some specific relationships. Only the first letter is used in the lectionary. This letter in particular shares some significant thinking and vocabulary with the Fourth Gospel. Whether this means they come from the same person or simply the same theological circles is impossible to say. None of them give their author a name. Tradition has associated them with John the Apostle, but there is no way of knowing exactly what relationship, if any, he had with the circles from which these writings came.

Detail from a portrait of John the Apostle by Alonso Cano. John is often portrayed blessing a poisoned chalice. For more on this story, see the page for this picture at the Louvre.
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Truth in the dock, the Spirit at the bar: John’s distinctive themes

This post is in the series Rite Reading. (2 of 2 posts on John)

In the first of these two posts on John’s gospel, I looked at some of the ways he differed from the other gospels. We saw how much he organised his writing around Jewish festivals in Jerusalem, and also took a look at the problems his language created for Christian attitudes to the Jewish people. Today I want to go on to explore, especially, two key themes that are have a significant impact in the life of the church and are well reflected in the lectionary’s choices.

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Retelling the Jesus story after long meditation: John’s gospel

This post is in the series Rite Reading. (1 of 2 posts on John)

I expect this to be the first of two posts on John’s gospel as I resume this series after Christmas. But anyone coming to this version of the story after reading the other three immediately sees significant differences in both style and content. Short pithy sayings are out, and long meditations are in. There are no exorcism stories from Jesus’s ministry, but the cross is portrayed as a casting out of Satan, described as “the ruler of this world” (John 12:31). Disciples who occur as significant characters in the synoptic gospels, like James and John the sons of Zebedee, don’t get a mention, while others like Philip and Thomas, who only appear as names in the first three gospels, get speaking parts in John.

St John: one of four paintings of the evangelists in Venice’s San Sebastiano church by Paolo Veronese. Via Wikimedia Commons.
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Four portraits, no photo: every gospel tells a story

This post is in the series Rite Reading.

The order of the biblical books is is not accidental but deliberate. The Old Testament ends with prophecy. The New Testament begins with the gospel that puts the greatest stresse on Jesus as the fulfilment of prophecy. This is Matthew’s version of the story of Jesus.

The canonical order is almost certainly not the order in which the gospels were written. In a rare instance of near universal academic agreement, biblical scholars think that this sub-genre of ancient biography was invented by Mark: the first person to write a gospel.

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