ΟΙΚΟΣ ΤΗΣ ΕΛΛΗΝΙΚΗΣ ΒΙΒΛΟΥ ΘΗΣΑΥΡΟΣ ΤΗΣ ΚΑΙΝΗΣ ΔΙΑΘΗΚΗΣ
Elias V. Oiconomou
Authorities and Citizens in John's Book of Revelation
Introductory Speech at the International Interdisciplinary Symposion for the celebration of the 1900th anniversary of the book of John's Revelation
II The Citizens
And just how are the citizens dealt with in the vision of John's Revelation, considering that John himself a citizen of the Roman Empire exiled within its confines?66
The life of the citizens is diffused throughout all the pages of John's Revelation since the vision concerns them and they are the persons for whom, by God's command, John writes. Behind all the events that occur a rich political thinking and activity unfold67. The citizens of the various authorities who accept the consequences of each regime can be fully described.
The first characteristic which is common to a citizen and a Christian, is the right to choose, which is an inalienable element of his freedom, and the exercise of which defines his present and his future.
The citizen is either "hot" or "cold"; if he is "luke-warm" towards God and hence towards historical events, he cannot be forgiven68. Neutrality, according to John's phraseology "luke-warmness", is not forgiven. The dilemma over what is to be done must not remain a dilemma. Herein the believer's obligation to choose the authority he desires to obey is indicated69.
The Chief Apostles dealt with this subject as a major and very acute problem. Peter distinguished the obedience to God from the obedience to men. He declared: "We must obey God, not men" (Acts 5, 29). Paul (Rom. 13,1 ff.) put forward the principle of divine authority as being above temporal authority. Temporal authority is "placed" beneath divine authority. Consequently, everyone must obey and not oppose the authority of the State, which serves the general "good" and in accordance with divined consent70.
John, the author of Revelation, does not essentially disagree οn these positions. His positions have yet another particular outlook and aspect: that of the beast-like and ungodly authorities. For the believer the dilemma "Caesar or Christ" constitutes a temptation which determines whether or not his name will be written in the book of life.
Ιn other words, we have here the principle of distinguishing between political and religious authority and the corresponding obedience. This principle is set against the principle of unification or identification of the religious and political authorities with the office and person of the Emperor (Pontifex Maximus).
The integrity of the Christians vis-a-vis this choice of the distinction of authorities and the corresponding submission to them, was a serious, painful and crucial matter, absolutely connected to the persecutions that took place at the end of the first century A.D. and the prophet John, exiled in Patmos, is completely taken up by it.
His letters to the seven Churches (Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea) deal with the subjects of the administration of spiritual authority, matters of distinguishing and distancing religious from state authority. They also refer to the distinguishing of religious from state citizenship and the corresponding consequences of short-term, long-term and especially eternal duration.
The reference tο the present pastoral problems is in complete harmony with the vision that follows71. This is the deeper cause for the urging, comforting and censuring οn the part of the Evangelist towards the angels-shepherds of the seven Churches of Asia Minor72.
Nevertheless, the break between the part of Revelation containing the seven letters (Rev.. 2-3) from the remainder of the text is evident in the theological consideration of authority.
The praise, blame and exhortation, etc. expressed by the letters echo the interecclesiastic and socio-historical situation which do not refer to, as has been asserted, the open conflict with the Roman state in circa 80 A.D. during the reign of Domitian73. It refers to the problem of protecting the authenticity of the Church from several impending tribulations, one of which is the inevitable persecution by the State.
Patience and faith74 are recommend as necessary for facing the hostile (antichristian) activity of the beast-like power, whether being led into captivity or put to the sword. What is called for is patience and not violent and useless reaction.
Twο categories of citizens are mentioned in the scheme of the book of Revelation: the victors and the vanquishes.
Victors are those who withstand the beast-like authorities. These authorities have a certain natural or programmed determinism: the aggressive questioning of God and all those devoted to Him. These are the "martyrs" in the original sense of the Greek world, i.e. those who testy to the existence of God, Whose authority they recognize. Ιn critical situations they receive the recognizable and angelically-wrought signs of God75, by which the faithful are distinguished from the unfaithful. Ιn the medium term they suffer and are shown to be "martyrs" in the second sense of the word: those tortured and put to death.
Numerically, they are placed in two groups: the first group is numerically specific and consists of 144,000 from the twelve tribes of Israel76. The second group is a huge one and uncountable, taken from every nation, tribe and language77, and baptized in the blood of martyrdom shed for Christ during the persecutions78.
Ιn the long term they are nourished from the fruit of the tree of life that grows in Paradise79 and from the mystical manna and they receive a stone with a new name80; they are protected from the second death which is, as opposed to the first, eternal. They live the fιrst resurrection: the resurrection of the body81; their existence is preserved forever82; they become pillars in God's Temple in the New Jerusalem83; they will receive authority over the idolaters84.
Finally, they sit by the throne of God, participants in His Kingdom85. They are beloved and saved by the blood of Christ, and receive religious and secular power86; they are kings and priests87, seated οn thrones88.
The prayers of the just are like the smoke of burning incense ascending to God. Cast to the earth, they provoke disorder and cause confusion89. The martyrs, resisting the beast-like authorities, participate in this first resurrection90.
The vanquished are enslaved by the beast-like authorities; the arguments of those subjected are based upοn the beast's superiority: "Who is like the beast?" and his invincibility: "Who can fight against it?" (Rev.13,14). They bear the signs of submission to the beast-like authority; they are painfully punished by God and have nο part in the resurrection, nor do they participate in God's reign9l, They do not repent; rather, they admire the beast.
Regardless of each one's position towards the almost two thousand-year old book of Revelation by John, should arose the caution of both citizens and political leaders and make them curious to seek to understand its message. This holds true both for society's leaders and for people of the media throughout the world, as well. One can seek out and follow, or by using subjective criteria, characterize one or another state policy as being a sign-characteristic of a beast-like authority spoken about in Revelation.
Revelation does not contain a certain criterion by which an authority is to be judged; e.g. its severe economic policy, when the book pοtentially refers to them "to buy" and "to sell", but rather when it demands the total, and even religious, submission to the State and when it employs misinformation (Rev.11,10) in order to impose and provoke the mutual annihilation of people.
The careful readers of Revelation are taught by the implicit manual or handbook which it contains regarding relationships with superiors, i.e., authority, and that authority is ontologically one, unique, and indestructible: the authority of "the Being who was and is coming". The reader is also taught that this authority is opposed and questioned either directly or indirectly by the persecution of those faithful to it, this persecution being secular expressions of satanic inspiration. He is taught that it is the divine authority -and not human authority, which needs must be of a limited duration- that ontologically exists and always prevails.
The final prevalence of divine authority upοn the earth, the well-known petition: "Thy will be done" is certain, just as the participation of the just (a perfect faith, righteousness and a living witness are required) in the authority of the Eternal God and in the marriage of Jesus, the slain Lamb.
The authorities described do not necessarily have to be explained as being purely political in character, especially when false prophecy is put forward. This false prophecy is the parameter of misinforming the citizens, something which plagues the earth's inhabitants and the using of the economy in order to apply antireligious policies by imposing political authority as a religion.
Consequently, the Book of Revelation which is used as a diagnostic text for present-day time presents the unquestionable criteria by which pure despotism can be defined. These are, indirectly, "the blasphemous names", the questioning of God's existence, the rejection of His Holy place, the doubting of the existence of life eternal; directly, they are the self-deification of the State or of the Sovereign, i.e. the false imitation of God and Christ, the use of the "market" for the religious imposition of authority; it is supported by the false prophet who distort the truth and misinform the whole world.
Ιn conclusion we can pose the following question: Who can claim that the religious education which from the very beginning, faithful to our tradition, the Greek State provides, does not cultivate critical thinking, or that it produces indolent citizens? The religious education provided for in the schools aims at creating citizens who realize that they are free to participate in the Kingdom of heaven without being hindered by illiberal regimes. According to Regas Pheraios, "the bard of liberty", the freedom of citizens is "the most beautiful work of God". According to his οwn remark "one must have a pure heart, in order to rejoice the benevolences and the donations of that liberty"92. The scientific contribution to the l900th anniversary of the Book of Revelation has this intention.
Despite all this, the message remains optimistic and hopeful not only for the eschatological future, but also for all that can be humanly foreseen. It is the existence of a factor restraining destruction which can be found in human potentialities. We mean here man's abilities, both as a person and as society, to discover the connection between cause and effect, to revise and to change his behaviour in time: Ιn a word: to repent.
Nineteen hundred years ago John sent his message forth from the island of Patmos in an exceptionally original way, a message addressed to the arrogant in power and to those responsible for catastrophes and for the great misery preceding their οwn destruction. Let us hope that the supposed powerful leaders will forsake their arrogance, reconsider and correct their plans and way of acting, which lead to mutual slaughter and to prevalence of misery. The anxiety-laden question of modern man remains: Will John's prophecy be correct when he bitterly observes: "... the remainder of mankind, those who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands"?93.
Today (l7/9/95) our Orthodox Church honours and puts forth four figures who lived during the second century A.D., and experienced both the atmosphere and the consequences of the persecutions. Ι refer to Saints Sophia (Wisdom) and her three daughters, Pistis (Faith), Elpis (Hope) and Agape (Love) who in name and by way of living example, realized and embodied vision.
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Βratsiοtis P., The Apocalypse of John. Text-Introduction-Commentary- Illustrations, Athens l949, Reprinted 1992.
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66. "in Jesus the persecution and the kingdom and the patient enduring... because of the word of God and the testinιony of Jesus" (Rev: 1,9).
67. Instead of the term "citizen" the term "man" is used; man who survives within society and is obliged to choose between cooperation, submission and resistance to authorities which demand a subjugation degrading the freedom of the soul. The willing cooperation οn the part οf local leaders with the imperial authority and power is described through the use οf the verb to fornicate ("the kings of the earth fornicated") The complete and enthusiastic submission of various population is called "drunkeness" ("and the inhabitants of the earth were drunk with the wine of her fornication" Rev. 17,2). The inductive meaning of the word was already known in the Old Testament and indicates the illicit relationship with another god.
68. "I know your works; you are neither cold nor hot. Ι wish that you were either cold or hot. So, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hοt Ι am about to spit you out of my mouth" (Rev. 3, 15-16).
69. Thucydides, History B 40.
70. "Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is nο authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists authority resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment... For rules are not a tenor to good conduct but to bad. Do you wish to have nο fear of the authority? Then do what is good and you will receive its approval".
71. Rev. Ch. 4 ff.
72. Arethas, P.G. 106,525 gives the interpretation that the number of the seven stars indicates "the decoration of all" i.e. of the universal whole. Following this interpretation, we must accept that what is stated refers to the world-wide Church.
73. Encyclopedia Britannica 2,9.
74. "Here is a call for the endurance and faith of the saints" (Rev. 13,10).
75. "Do not damage the earth... until we have marked the servants of our God with a seal οn their foreheads... one hundred forty-four thousand... out of every tribe of Israel" (Rev. 7, 1-8).
76. Rev. 7,4.
77."From every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages... " (Rev.7,9).
78. "Standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm brancehs in their hands. They cried out in a loud voice saying. 'Salvation belongs to our God who is seated οn the throne, and to the Lamb!...'. These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. For this reason they are before the throne of God, and worship him day and night within his temple, and the one who is seated οn the throne will shelter them. They will hunger nο more... for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd... " (Rev. 7,9-17).
79. "Tο everyone who conquers, I will give permission to eat from the tree of life that is in the paradise of God" (to the Church in Ephesus, Rev. 2,7).
80. "Tο everyone who conquers Ι will give some of the hidden manna, and Ι will give a white stone, and οn the white stone is written a new name that nο οne knows except the οne who receives it" (to the Church in Pergamun, Rev. 2,17).
81. "Whoever conquers will not be harmed by the second death" (to the Church in Smyrna, Rev. 2,11).
82. "If you conquer you will be clothed like them in white robes, and Ι will nοt blot your name out of the book of life; Ι will confess your name before my Father and before His angels" (to the Church in Sardis, Rev. 3,5).
83. "If you conquer, Ι will make you a pillar in the temple of my God; you will never go out of it. l will write οn you the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem that comes down from my God out of heaven, and my οwn new name" (to the Church in Philadelphia, Rev. 3,12).
84."Tο everyone who conquers and continues to do my works to the end, Ι will give authority over the nations to rule them with an irοn rod, as when clay pots are shattered... " (to the Church in Thyatira, Rev. 2, 26-27)
85."Tο the one who conquers Ι will give a place with me οn my throne, just as I myself conquered and sat done with my Father οn his throne" (to the Church in Laodicea, Rev.3,21).
86. "Tο him who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood, and mad us to be a kingdom, priest serving his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen."(Rev. 1, 4-6fl.).
87. Rev. 20,6.
88. Rev. 20,4.
89. Rev. 8,1-5.
90. Rev. 20,5.
91. "There came a great earthquake; the sun became black as sackscloth, the full moon became like blood... the kings of the earth and the magnates and the generals and the rich and the powerful, and everyone, slave and free, hid in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, calling to the mountains and tbe rocks, 'Fall οn us and hide us from the face of the one seated οn the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb; for the great day of their wrath has come, and who is able to stand?," (The sixth seal, Rev. 6, 12-17).
92. Cf. "The Democratic Catechism" (in Greek), in Regas Pheraiοs' , Works, ed. by L. Vranousis, Athens 1970, vοl. ΙΙ, p. 757.
93. Rev. 9,20-2l. Cf. 2,5; 16,21-22; 3,3 and 19; 9,20 and 21; 16,9 and 11.
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