In Search of the Loving God

Chapter 19

An Interpretion of the Book of Revelation

as an Allegory of Living the Spiritual Life

An illuminated letter Many Christians have the attitude that the world is going to rack and ruin. It's no longer safe to walk the streets. Crime is ten times as bad as it was in the good old days. The world is destined to terrible destruction in the next few years. Even apparently good trends like communism's retreat from Europe are just the devil deceiving us into thinking things are going well so he can complete his final death blow to the world. Only God-fearing Christians will be plucked from the flames in the last days. Most of the world's people are about to die agonizing deaths, then go to hell for an eternity of torment. This will happen very soon now, when Jesus returns to "rapture" Christians who believe in the literal truth of the Bible, and cast the rest of the world into "tribulation." All this is predicted in the Bible books of Matthew and Revelation. And they're telling you all this so you can turn to Jesus and be saved.

The evangelical film industry strongly pushes this line, using fear to convert people. The executive producer of one of its films, A Thief in the Night, estimated that this film which cost only $68,000 to make led to a harvest of over four million conversions, and made many millions of dollars in revenues. The film is a graphic portrayal of the world in tribulation after true Christians have been "raptured" (taken from the planet), and centers on the anguish of a woman called Patty who considers herself a Christian, but goes to a church whose minister is a theological liberal who refuses to interpret the Bible literally. Because of this she is left behind at the rapture while her husband, a "true" Christian, is taken by Jesus. The makers of this film have said that it works best when followed by an "altar call" or an invitation to conversion.[1]

The attitude exemplified by this movie, which has many variations, is a direct result of Christian exclusiveness combined with an "eschatology," or "end-time teaching," based on a particular, very literal, interpretation of chapter 24 of Matthew and the book of Revelation. In every century, from a few years after Jesus died to the present, there have been Christians who have thought this way, and were convinced that Jesus was coming back in their lifetime, and the world was about to end. Some admitted they didn't know the day or the hour, just that it would be soon. Others confidently predicted the year of Jesus' return, and some even the exact day. But on thousands of occasions, over twenty centuries, these predictions have been wrong. Yet, despite this, many Christians still believe the end of the world is coming soon. A few years ago, a book was published with a title along the lines of, "1,988 Reasons Why Jesus is Coming Back in 1988." When Jesus failed to come back in that year, a rather cruel cartoon proposed a new edition of the book to be called, "1,989 Reasons Why Jesus is coming back in 1989," with the 1,989th reason being that he didn't come back in 1988.[2] This is a fairly accurate reflection of the state of end-time teaching.

The belief that the world is ending soon is particularly prevalent among Pentecostal and evangelical Christians. Yet not all evangelicals and Pentecostals subscribe to this end-time teaching, and some have even pointed out its dangers. Arden Burrell, a prominent pastor and administrator in the Pentecostal Assemblies of God church in Australia, has pointed out one of the main problems with such teachings. His warning to the church was, "Your eschatology is defeating you." He explained this by saying that the belief that Jesus is coming back within a few years was causing people to put both their temporal and spiritual lives on hold. They were not making proper plans and provision for their future, or their children's future, nor were they making an effort in their spiritual lives to do the will of God, and grow in God's strength. Instead they were using the supposed imminent return of Jesus as an excuse for carelessness and laziness. I remember the ambivalent feelings of one intelligent teenager in that church regarding the return of Jesus: of course she looked forward to Jesus coming, but she hoped he would come later rather that sooner, so she and the children she hoped to have could enjoy their lives first. I felt this was a very healthy attitude, nevertheless, it highlighted one of the chief problems with end-time teachings, which is that only one generation of human beings can both be present at its fulfillment, and not miss out on the chance of a reasonably full life on earth. And this, of course, explains why some people in each generation of Christians think Jesus will return in their lifetime, and usually toward the middle or end of it. There is the rather selfish wish that they be privileged over all generations, quite in addition to being a part of the small elect which is saved, while the vast masses of humanity are sent to burn forever in hell.

This selfish and exclusive attitude doesn't impress discriminating people, and only helps bring the church into disrepute. The damage being caused to the church, combined with the repeated failures of end-time predictions to eventuate, must surely lead many Christians to look at the books of Matthew and Revelation again, in an objective way, to see whether there is not a more universal significance to these so called "end-time" teachings, which every generation of Christians could participate in. Martin Luther dismissed the book of Revelation as irrelevant to Christian life and theology, and urged that it be excluded from the canon of Scripture.[3] While I agree with Luther about the need for relevance, I disagree, of course, with his proposal to remove the book of Revelation from the Bible. We can't just exclude books from the Bible because we don't like them, or can't make sense of them. In any event, I believe Revelation can, and should, be interpreted in a way which is relevant to Christian life. Indeed, I believe it can be read as an allegory of the joys, struggles and triumphs of living the spiritual life. In this chapter I am going to look into and discuss this interpretation. I am not claiming it is the only true interpretation, the last word on the subject. Rather, I hope it will suggest some new directions which can be followed up by others. Discovering a universal symbolic significance in writings of such vision as these does not necessarily deny the eventual literal truth of what certain parts of them are saying, but if it allows each generation of Christians to see its relevance to themselves, even though they are not living in the literal end-times, then I believe it is worthwhile. I believe all the New Testament teachings were meant to be universally significant to all Christians, and, indeed, to all seekers after God, whatever their religion, even though certain parts of them need to be interpreted in the light of their historical context and purpose.

The book of Revelation was written in about 90-95 A.D., for the edification of Christians who had been waiting sixty years in eager anticipation of Jesus' return to earth, and whose faith, in many cases, must have been beginning to wane. It was an encouragement for them to stand firm, and an inspiration for their faith - a book of eternal, timeless realities. Pat Alexander points out in The Lion Handbook to the Bible that the book of Revelation is apocalyptic literature, visionary and poetic, making frequent use of imagery and symbols, and that to take it literally is to go against its whole spirit.[4]

A knowledge of the numerology of the time is also important in understanding Revelation. A part of the reason for ascribing symbolic importance to certain numbers was that the ancient languages of the Bible had no separate numerals, and letters of the alphabet doubled as numerals. These letters themselves had meanings, so to ascribe meanings to the numbers represented by them was a natural progression. Revelation's author (traditionally considered to be John the Evangelist) makes much use of the number seven, which often stands for completeness and perfection. So the "seven spirits" (Rev 1:4) refers to the Holy Spirit, with seven meaning "holy," quite apart from its meaning as a number.[5] Later I will show how "4," "6," "12," "666"; and "1000" also have meanings as adjectives, rather than, or in addition to, their meanings as numbers.

Before we can even start to interpret Revelation, though, we have to understand why many early Christians believed Jesus was coming back within their lifetime. The reason lies in what Jesus himself said, in Chapter 24 of Matthew's Gospel. On leaving the temple one day, Jesus was approached by his disciples, who called his attention to its buildings. This prompted Jesus to remark, in prediction of the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D., that "not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down." (Matt 24:2) Later, on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately and asked him to elaborate on his prediction:

"Tell us," they said, "when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age."
(Matt 24:3)

In reply Jesus gave his disciples some detailed predictions of the future, and the difficulties they would face in it, before he came back to them. Some of his predictions of travail could apply to just about any time in the earth's history, so people from all centuries have thought it applied to their own times. These include:

"Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom.
There will be famines and earthquakes…"   (Matt 24:7)

"Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me."   (Matt 24:9)


"Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will
grow cold, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved.
And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole
world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will
come."   (Matt 24:12-14)

It must, however, be remembered that Jesus was being asked to elaborate on his prediction of the destruction of the temple, and that he was addressing his disciples with predictions of what they, personally, would experience during their lifetimes, and warning them against being deceived by certain events. To make doubly sure he was not misunderstood, Jesus completed his prophecy with these words:

"I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened."   (Matt 24:34)

Despite the clarity of this statement, some Bibles footnote the word "generation" with "Or race," presumably to leave open the interpretation that all these things Jesus saw could be applied to much later times, even our own. The reason why Christians want to interpret the word "generation" as "race" is that one of the predictions Jesus made of this time, that would "certainly" happen before "this generation" passed away, was that he would return "with power and great glory." (Matt 24:30) Since Jesus apparently did not come back in that generation, it is presumed that by "generation" Jesus must have meant "race." It is, however, a big step, fraught with danger, to assume Jesus meant something different from what he actually said. Nor could this be a translation problem, as the Greek word used, genea, properly means generation, is derived from a word meaning "kin," and is the root of the English words "generation" and "genealogy." By implication it can also mean an "age," a "nation" or a "time," but a "race" is not mentioned by Greek dictionaries as an implied meaning.[6] This is, presumably, why translators feel constrained to retain the translation of "generation," even though they would like it to mean "race." Another reason is that Jesus said the same thing in a slightly different way on another occasion:

"...the Son of Man is going to come in his Father's glory with
his angels, and then he will reward each person according to
what he has done. I tell you the truth, some who are standing
here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man com-
ing in his kingdom."   (Matt 16:27-28)

This confirms Jesus really was predicting he would come back while at least some of the current generation of people were still alive. And this is, of course, why the early Christians, to whom the book of Revelation was addressed, were so convinced Jesus would return in their lifetime. Do we have to admit, then, that this prediction of Jesus' was wrong? I don't think so. I believe Jesus really did come back in that generation, and has been coming back to every generation since then, but that most people did not, and do not, recognize his presence. Most people were expecting Jesus to return in a physical body, albeit a glorious one, which could be seen with their everyday eyes, but it was not to be like that. When Jesus explained that the kingdom of God is not a physical place somewhere out there, but is intuitively perceived and experienced "within" ourselves, he put it in these words:

"The kingdom of God does not come visibly, nor will people
say, 'Here it is,' or 'There it is,' because the kingdom of God
is within you."   (Luke 17: 20-21)

Speaking of his return, in Matthew 24, Jesus made a similar use of the words "Here" and "There," suggesting a like meaning:

"So if anyone tells you, 'There he is, out in the desert,' do not go out; or, 'Here he is, in the inner rooms,' do not believe it. For as the lightning comes from the east and flashes to the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man."   (Matt 24:26-27)

The image of the lightning flashing from the east to the west speaks of omnipresence, of being all places at once: it is symbolic of a powerful spiritual presence. It is like Jesus' image of those born of the Spirit:

"The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but
you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So
it is with everyone born of the Spirit."   (John 3:8)

And, indeed, this is the key to what Jesus meant by his return. He meant he would be born again in the hearts and consciousness of those who have been born of the Spirit, and that his powerful and glorious presence would be with them. Seeing something "in the clouds of the sky" is an image of spiritual perception, and the "trumpet call" is an image of the interiorly heard sound of the "Amen" (or the "Om," of Hinduism), the sound of rushing waters" (Rev 1:15), the roar of the universe, heard by those who have been born again of the Spirit. This is why Jesus said,

"They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory. And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other."
(Matt 24:30-31)

So when Jesus said, "some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom," (Matt 16:28) he meant that in their current lifetime, some of those in his presence would be born again in Spirit, and would see him come "IN HIS KINGDOM." And which kingdom is this? It is the kingdom of God, for, as is explained many times in the Bible, Jesus is heir to this kingdom, and we are co-heirs with him (e.g. Romans 8:17). And where is the kingdom of God? It is "WITHIN YOU" - and that is precisely where Jesus returns. All these references to the kingdom of God and Jesus' return are consistent with each other, and within themselves, when seen in this light. When people are born again of the Spirit, they become God's elect, those who have chosen Him rather than the worldly egotistical way of living, and so Jesus said that when he comes with his angels, they will gather his elect from "the four winds," that is from all corners of the earth, and from "one end of the heavens to the other" - from all planets in the universe where there is sentient life. And Jesus and his angels will continue to gather his elect in every generation, when people come to God, and are born again of the Spirit.

Jesus was asked two questions by his disciples: one was about the destruction of the temple, and the other was about the sign of his coming and the end of the age. So he talked about the destruction and anguish which was in store for Jerusalem, and the spreading of his gospel around the world (which was probably referring to just the known, or "civilized," world, the Greek oikoumene, extending from the Mediterranean area through to India[7]). Both of these things did, in fact, happen within the lifetime of his disciples. And he also talked about how he would come again into the lives of many of them. What is more, his two answers are associated, for the destruction of Jerusalem was a fitting image for the destruction of worldliness which must occur in people's lives before they can be born again of the Spirit. So the "end of the world" means two things in Matthew and Revelation: the destruction of Jerusalem and Israel, the end of their nation and world as they knew it, and the end of worldliness in those born again of the Spirit. Jesus predicted the anguish would be great leading up to both of these great endings. Certainly the sacking of Jerusalem was to be devastating, but also, as those who have been born again spiritually know, there is no greater anguish than the falling apart of our little worldly empires - our realization that we cannot cope on our own - which precedes giving our lives to God.

This is a profoundly different way of looking at "end-time" teachings, but it is one which makes sense of it all, explains why the world hasn't physically come to an end, and involves every generation of people equally, as the "end-time" of the worldliness of those ready to surrender to God approaches, and they are born again of the Spirit and become a part of God's elite. This is not to say the world will not end one day; it must end at some time, and if not before, it will happen in about seven billion years time when the sun heats up to the point where life on earth cannot be sustained. Seeing the basic meaning of these Scriptures, though, and understanding its symbolism, enables us to focus on the true end of this world for us, as we give our life to God: the end times of our lives here on earth, and the end of our association with the world's ways.

The Book of Revelation can be much better understood if we approach it with this view of the "end times." It was written to inspire the lagging faith of those who were patiently waiting for Jesus to return, by giving them a vision of just how Jesus comes back to those who truly give their lives to God, and showing them some of the wonderful things that are in store for them. John was a man who meditated deeply on God, and was given a vision to pass on to the early churches:

"On the Lord's day I was in the Spirit, and I heard behind me a
loud voice like a trumpet, which said: "Write on a scroll what
you see and send it to the seven churches…"   (Rev1:10-11)

The Lord's day may have been Sunday, but it could have been any day devoted to waiting on God in silent prayer and meditation. As in Matthew's Gospel, the "loud voice like a trumpet" is the intuitively heard voice of God, a part of the inner spiritual vision, not any externally heard sound. John hearing the voice "behind" him means he heard it behind his physical senses, in an intuitive way. Anyone who wants to know God, and is prepared to spend time meditating on Him, will, in time, be able to hear this voice of God. It may be as the ever-comforting "Om" or "Amen" sound, which John, in accord with many others, describes as being "like the sound of rushing waters" (Rev 1:15), or it may be through the voice of intuition or conscience, bringing specific guidance or information. John describes how he reacted to this voice:

"I turned round to see the voice that was speaking to me. And
when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands…"   (Rev 1:12)
In the Greek the word "round" isn't there; the literal translation is, "I turned to see the voice which spoke with me." As a key to interpreting Revelation, I am advocating the suggestion that John didn't turn round, but turned within, and what he saw was his astral body, the body of light which survives physical death, centered around the seven cerebro-spinal centers (or chakras), glowing like "seven golden lampstands." These are the brain center, called in the Vedas the "thousand petalled lotus of light," and the six spinal centers. They correspond to the brain, the medulla oblongata, and the five main nerve centers, or plexuses, along the spinal cord, which feed nerves to the various parts of the body: the cervical (neck), thoracic (heart), lumbar (solar plexus), sacral (hara), and coccygeal centers. The significance of these spinal centers to spiritual perception is that if we are to withdraw our consciousness and life energy from the outer world of the senses into the kingdom of heaven within, so we can really love the Lord our God with all our "mind" and all our "strength," we need to reverse the flow of nervous energy, which normally flows out into the world, and re-direct it so it circulates around the "temple of the Holy Spirit" within. In practice, this involves reversing the flow of perception at these main nerve centers. These nerve centers are the "gates" through which we move out into identification with the world, or withdraw into the kingdom of God within. There are Yoga techniques, designed to give control over these nerve centers, which greatly hasten the process of finding the "kingdom of God" within. Some of these Yoga techniques involve circulating "life energy" around the seven cerebro-spinal centers, often through pranayama methods, whereby the "life force" is controlled through breathing techniques. The techniques I am best acquainted with are the Kriya Yoga techniques, brought to the West by Paramahansa Yogananda, and taught by the organization he started, Self-Realization Fellowship.[8] People from all religions can apply to learn these techniques. The fact that John reveals his use of such techniques in the verses of Revelation we have just looked at establishes an excellent precedent for their use by Christians. That John really did practice and advocate a life-force control technique similar to some Yoga techniques, can be further confirmed by analyzing this explanation of his:

"The mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand and of the seven golden lampstands is this: The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches."   (Rev 1:20)

Churches are always, in one way or another, meant to be links between this physical world and the spiritual world, routes of salvation, ways of escaping from the suffering of this world. John is here explaining that this is what the seven golden lampstands, the seven cerebro-spinal centers (or chakras) are: they are the way in and out from the physical realm to the heavenly realm - the route of our salvation, our escape to heaven - so he calls them churches. The seven stars were earlier said to be held in the "right hand" of the astral body (verse 16), and this is reiterated in this verse. The right hand is an image of control and power. What this means is that we can have control and power over these stars, not outwardly, in a physical way, but inwardly through the grace of God, as the astral body is holding them in the power of the Spirit. In verse 16 the stars are left unexplained, but in verse 20 John says, "The seven stars are the seven angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches." In other words, the stars are the power and light (angels) of each of the seven lampstands or cerebro-spinal centers (churches).[9] John is saying we can manipulate and control the energy in these centers (their stars, or angels) so as to use them as "churches" - links to the kingdom of God within. Yoga techniques such as Kriya Yoga are designed to do exactly this. Such a Yoga, and the spiritual blessing by which it is effective, is the outworking of God's grace, a priceless gift offered to all who really want to know God enough to go to the trouble of seeking it out.

With this knowledge it is easy to see who it is, "who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands" (Rev 2:1). It is the divine power of Christ we each have access to within us, there to tap into if we choose to identify with it rather than with the world.

In talking about the problems and strengths of the seven church congregations, John is talking about the various problems individuals typically face, the strengths they have been blessed with, and the warnings they need to heed if they are to "overcome," and receive the rewards from God he so beautifully describes:

"To him who overcomes and does my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations…I will also give him the morning star. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches."   (Rev 2:26,28-29)

The morning star is an image of Christ's presence and power - the way, as we have seen, Jesus comes back to those who have overcome the world, and been born of the Spirit. The image is explained in the last chapter of Revelation, where Jesus talks of his coming back:

"I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give you this testimony for
the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David,
and the bright morning star."   (Rev 22:16)

The Sanskrit word "Om" (pronounced "Aum") refers to the Holy Spirit, and is named after his voice, "like the sound of rushing waters," which can be heard within by those who are in tune with God. The word "Amen" has a similar sound (when pronounced "Ah-men," as it should be), and that it is also a name for the Holy Spirit is shown by this verse:

"These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God's creation."   (Rev 3:14)

In Chapter 4 John again refers to the cerebro-spinal centers, or chakras, as gates to the kingdom of heaven, and to the astral body of light, formed around these seven glowing centers ("seven lamps… blazing"), which together contain the sevenfold spirit of God. This truly describes how the body is the temple of the Holy Spirit:

"After this I looked, and there before me was a door standing open in heaven, And the voice I had first heard speaking to me like a trumpet said, 'Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.' At once I was in the Spirit, and there before me was a throne in heaven with someone sitting on it... From the throne came flashes of lightning, rumblings and peals of thunder. Before the throne, seven lamps were blazing. These are the seven spirits of God. Also before the throne there was what looked like a sea of glass, clear as crystal."
(Rev 4:1-2,5-6)

The "sea of glass, clear as crystal" is an image of the perfect intuitive perception that is possible when all thoughts are calmed, and the mind is withdrawn from the senses and reverently concentrated on God alone. Thoughts are ripples on the lake of the mind, which break up and distort the image of God which is shining there always. But through meditation the mind becomes calm, the waves of thought gradually subside, and before long the presence of God is felt, just as the image of the moon appears in a still lake.

In this sea of glass, John saw the truth about the two ways of living: the worldly way, which the masses in each generation choose, and the way of following God, which only a few people, the "elect" in each generation, choose. The "seven seals" (Rev 6-8) maintain the secrecy about the power of the seven chakras, known only to the elect: each is a two-way gate, and the power residing in them is a two-edged sword. By withdrawing the life force up into the spine and brain through each of these nerve centers, the kingdom of God within can be realized, but by allowing the life force to go down the spine and out through these nerve centers into the physical world of sense attachment, worldliness, with all its troubles, results. These are the two choices. John symbolically pictures the results of each. First there are these preliminary verses:

"After this I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds…Then I saw another angel coming up from the east, having the seal of the living God. He called out in a loud voice to the four angels…: 'Do not harm the land or the sea or the trees until we put a seal on the foreheads of the servants of our God.' Then I heard the numbers of those who were sealed: 144,000 from all the tribes of Israel."  (Rev 7:1-4)

"Four" stands for the earth, and the four angels are the laws of nature which govern the way the material world works. Nature will have no power to harm the servants of God, as they are living under God's law, and are not bound by natural law. The "144,000" represent all the people who have chosen God, and the twelve tribes of Israel represent all the nations of the world. "Twelve" symbolizes the full extent of something. That 12,000 of the elect come from each of the twelve tribes, shows that no nation or people or religion is favoured over any other. The elect is:

"a great multitude that no-one could count, from every nation,
tribe, people and language…"   (Rev 7:9)

They are people who have been in the "great tribulation" of worldliness, but have come out of it by following the way of purity and perfection Jesus taught. In the picturesque language of the vision, "they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the lamb." (Rev: 7:14) Their reward, in living in the kingdom of God, is that:

"they are before the throne of God and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will spread his tent over them. Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat upon them, nor any scorching heat. For the lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes."
(Rev 7:15-17)

By contrast, those who turn their back on God, and reach out into worldliness through their senses, wreak a terrible havoc on the world. The image of the "angels" (life energy), of the golden lampstands (chakras) being sent downward to the earth, rather than upward to God, is vividly portrayed:

"The first angel sounded his trumpet, and there came hail and
fire mixed with blood, and it was hurled down upon the earth.
A third of the earth was burned up, a third of the trees were
burned up, and all the green grass was burned up."   (Rev 8:7)

With all of the first six angels, havoc is brought to earth, and one third of everything is destroyed. The seventh angel, however, is the energy of the "thousand-petalled lotus" of the brain. It is the highest and most important nerve center, and even when its energy is directed toward the world, it calls human beings to see the holy in life, and begin to think of God. So it is that thinking, reflective people are most likely to realize the folly of living in a worldly way, become sick of its alternating joys and troubles, and look for permanent happiness. When the seventh angel sounded his trumpet, there were loud voices in heaven, which said:

"The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord, and of his Christ and he will reign for ever and ever."   (Rev 11:15)

This is a change within an individual: a conversion. Once this genuinely happens, a person will never look back - Christ "will reign for ever and ever" with that person. This brings great rejoicing in heaven, where the twenty-four elders, who were seated on their thrones before God, fell on their faces and worshipped God, saying:

"We give thanks to you, Lord God Almighty, who is and who was, because you have taken your great power and have begun to reign."   (Rev 11:16-17)

But God has only just "begun to reign" in such a person's life, and a gigantic battle between good and evil must take place, as the person's bad habits and selfish tendencies, built up over incarnations, are painfully weeded out. The new spiritual seeker, determined to find God, is given a lovely image in Revelation:

"…a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head. She was pregnant and cried out in pain as she was about to give birth."
(Rev 12:1-2)

This shows how much God values every new person who comes to Him: he dresses them in the glory of the universe, and is there to help them do battle with their old worldly nature and defeat it. Before this battle with the devil, in the form of the "dragon," the woman gives birth to "a male child, who will rule all the nations with an iron scepter," and who is "snatched up to God and to his throne." (Rev 12:5) The child is clearly Jesus, and the woman giving birth is the spiritual seeker being born again of the Spirit, and giving birth to Christ in his heart - a beautiful image of the way Jesus comes again.

Two further aspects of evil in the world are then discussed: the two beasts. The first represents the obviously blasphemous and egotistical works of some human beings, the second, a more subtle and insidious form of worldliness, which is sophisticated, deceptive, and pretends to be doing good. This is the infamous and widely discussed beast who:

"…forced everyone, small and great, rich and poor, free and
slave, to receive a mark on his right hand or on his forehead,
so that no-one could buy or sell unless he had the mark, which
is the name of the beast or the number of his name. This calls
for wisdom. If anyone has insight, let him calculate the number
of the beast, for it is man's number. His number is 666."
(Rev 13:16-18)

People do either display the mark of the world or show their freedom in God. But this passage also has a deeper meaning. It refers to the world being organized in such a way that it makes it very difficult for people not to be worldly, where it is almost impossible to do business (buying or selling) without becoming tied up with its unscrupulousness. It is very easy for worldliness to rub off on those who have recently decided to seek God, and for it to drag them back into its clutches. Wisdom and insight are needed to find the way out of this problem, for even Godly people need to buy and sell, and in other ways deal with the world. The answer lies in the fact that the mark of the beast is "man's number." The essence of worldliness lies in people being egotistical and wanting to do things in their own human way, rather than through seeking God's way. With this insight, God's people can deal with the world safely, and not become corrupted by it: what they have to do is remain centered in the thought of God, avoid putting themselves first, and always ask God what He wants them to do, rather than doing things their own way. "I did it my way" is the way of the world, which gratifies the ego, but leads to inevitable pain and sorrow. "I did it God's way" is the way to eternal happiness.

In the symbolism of numbers, "6" was considered a human number, and no matter how many times it is repeated, it always falls short of "7," God's number.[10] The number 666 is also almost exactly two-thirds of 1,000, which is, in this symbolism, a perfect, complete number, as in the number of the elect, which is 12x12x1000, and the millennium, which is "1,000" years of peace. Man's number being two-thirds of perfection is significant. When the first six angels hurled their strength down to earth (Rev 8 and 9), which, as we saw, is an image of people's sense identification with the world, "a third" of everything that was touched was destroyed, leaving just two-thirds intact. This is the way of the world: even at its best, for every two things that go right, there will be something that will go wrong, progress is always "two steps forward and one step backwards," and for every two days of happiness there will be a day of sadness somewhere down the line. This duality of the world can't be avoided; it is its very nature. Only in the kingdom of heaven can perfection be found. And this is why living in the kingdom of heaven is described as a "thousand" years. Once people have overcome their worldly habits and tendencies (won the battle with the dragon), avoided the deception of the beast (worldliness tempting them back), then, in the language of Revelation, their "Babylon" has fallen, there is great rejoicing, and they live in the millennium, the "thousand" or perfect years of living in the kingdom of heaven, during which the worldliness and duality of the earth they live on does not affect them, and temptation does not assail them. They are in the world still, but not of the world. Though, literally, the word "thousand" is used as a number, its real meaning is only apparent when its numerology is understood.

After being strengthened by living with God during these perfect years or "millennium," the elect are again tempted by Satan (Rev 20:7). The devil loves to test the saints, and even, as we know, took a delight in tempting Jesus in the wilderness. But with the strength of God they now have, the saintly have no trouble in defeating the devil. And this really is the end of temptation, worldliness and deception for such saints: these evils are then defeated forever. In the language of Revelation,

"the devil…was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where
the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be
tormented day and night for ever and ever."   (Rev 20:10)

There is one more aspect of this drama of salvation to be covered - what happens at the death of the physical body - and John goes on to shed light on this. As it is a time of transition, a judgment must be made about where each soul is to go next. What John saw was that "each person was judged according to what he had done." (Rev 20:13) This is the end of physical death for the Godly who have overcome worldliness: death belongs to material existence, "the lake of fire," so whatever impression of the realness of physical death these graduating souls have brought with them must be cast off, and returned to earth, along with all the worldly souls who still hanker after a material existence. As Revelation puts it:

"…death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake
of fire is the second death. If anyone's name was not found
written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire."
(Rev 20:14)

An earlier passage showed that this lake of fire, or burning sulfur, is the permanent home of temptation (the devil), worldliness (the beast) and deceptiveness and false teaching (the false prophet). Now it is also shown to be the place where death, Hades and worldly people reside. This certainly sounds like earth, or some other material planet. And, indeed, the lake of fire is the material plane of existence.

Those whose names are written in "the book of life" do not return to a material existence. For them the "first earth" has "passed away," and they graduate to a totally new existence:

"Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband."   (Rev 21:1-2)

This heavenly city:

"…shone with the glory of God, and its brilliance was like that of a very precious jewel, like jasper, clear as crystal…The street of the city was of pure gold, like transparent glass… The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp… Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb's book of life."   (Rev 21:11,21,23,27)

The Hindus would call this an astral world, and it is the reward for those who have overcome worldliness. Compare its description with that of the astral world Hiranyaloka, described by Sri Yukteswar in the chapter "The Resurrection of Sri Yukteswar" in Paramahansa Yogananda's Autobiography of a Yogi Here are some snippets of a description which runs for some pages:

"The astral world is infinitely beautiful, clean, pure, and orderly There are no dead planets or barren lands. The terrestrial ble- mishes - weeds, bacteria, insects, snakes - are absent. Unlike the variable climates and seasons of the earth, the astral planets maintain the even temperature of an eternal spring, with occasional luminous white snow and rain of many-colored lights. Astral planets abound in opal lakes and bright seas and rainbow rivers… The earth is dark with warfare and murder in the sea, land, and air…but the astral realms know a happy harmony and equality."[11]

John's vision, and the book of Revelation, end here, with Jesus saying,

"Behold, I am coming soon! Blessed is he who keeps the
words of the prophecy in this book."

If this coming again of Jesus is understood in the personal, spiritual context I have been proposing, rather than the traditional context of an end to world history, the book of Revelation becomes much more joyous, coherent and understandable, and a lot more relevant to Christians of all times. It describes the actual process of salvation which all Christians, indeed all seekers after God, must go through.

A great advantage of this interpretation is its power to reconcile evangelical Christianity with the more liberal social gospel. The "postmillennialism" of the nineteenth century led to the church being involved in social reform, in an attempt to help establish the paradise on earth of the millennium, and so hasten the return of Jesus. Much of the impetus for the social gospel came from this. Under "premillennialism," which came into fashion among evangelicals after the turn of the twentieth century, Christ was seen as returning before the millennium, and establishing it himself. In this situation, striving to improve the world seemed pointless. Evangelicals abandoned the social gospel, leaving it to liberal Christians, who continued to espouse it. My analysis in this chapter confirms the premillennialist sequence of events:

1/ Jesus returning (being born in our hearts),

2/ the tribulation (as we struggle with bad habits, etc.), and

3/ the millennium (perfect years of peace, living in the
    kingdom of heaven within, while still on earth).

This analysis does not, however, suggest social reform is futile, for the world is not seen as being about to end. Indeed, the contrary can be shown, for if we wish to have Jesus return to us we need to heed what he said, that, "He will reward each person according to what he has done." (Matt 16:27; Rev 20: 13) This makes the social gospel very relevant and necessary.

From: In Search of the Loving God by Mark Mason
Copyright © 1997.

To find out about options for purchasing the book (384 pp.), including buying an autographed copy directly from the author, visit my Bookstore Page.

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