As present times strike many as “apocalyptic”, it was not too surprising that within days of publication in mid May Israeli Christian author and public figure Amir Tsarfati’s Revealing Revelation should reach the top of even some secular best seller lists.
I could, but won’t, offer a critique. Despite certain limitations, anyone (including the many Christians) unfamiliar with Revelation and its connection to the rest of the bible, by reading Tsarfati can at least obtain a fast and clear introduction to the last and perhaps most controversial book of the Bible. (It was late and last into the canon in 419 though the early church fathers and notables like Augustine and Jerome had always accepted it).
My aim here is to reveal briefly as possible what Tsarfati’s book doesn’t reveal or explain. This means the kind of mystical, philosophical or spiritual facts and logic unstated but assumed that underlie Revelation with its horrors and extremes. It’s a book many find impressive and meaningful while they can still wonder if it’s compatible with belief in a God of love. There’s no point hiding the problem. I make no claims to infallibility, but I think I have joined dots and filled gaps to arrive at a reasonable clarity in relation to the too often unstated, hidden principles. Some like the late poet Kathleen Raine perceive the God of Revelation as only a devil god. We can start this inquiry with the divine image.
GOD IS FIRE
Right images of God are crucial to right and focussed understanding of anything like Revelation. Moses is addressed by God from a burning bush. The prophet Elijah is translated to heaven in a whirlwind and with a chariot and horses of fire (but that don’t burn him). The prophet Ezekiel has a vision of God amid lightning and flashes of fire and from the waist down his body looks like fire (Ezek 1:27). At Pentecost the Spirit descends on the disciples in tongues of fire. “For our God is a consuming fire” declares the epistle to Hebrews (Heb 12.28). Fire is necessary to life; it is dangerous, creative but destructive. (“It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Heb 10:31).
If we don’t or can’t recognize the core fire fact about God it may be because that part of us that is spirit hasn’t been sufficiently awakened to it. Rather as God is One as Trinity, so humans are body, mind/soul and spirit, but the fire-related spirit sleeps or is even dead until awakened.
John the Revelator is “in the Spirit” when he receives his vision, which beyond straightforward vision seems to be information conveyed to him in the divine throne room to which he ascends (Rev 4:1,2); but it’s possible this privilege is the intended understanding. The bible does not very explicitly teach, but certainly assumes, a species of aura surrounding us and keeping us in life and leaving us at death– some biblical accounts like that of the prophet Ezekiel transported to Jerusalem from Babylon to Jerusalem to witness events (Ezek 8:3), make most sense if and when a spirit self is assumed.
Both outside Christianity and within it, the spirit self, the ruach, is liable to be confused with soul nephesh, (the pair and psyche and pneuma in Greek). What soul usually relates to (and some may even call God), seek yoga style to purify, or have mystical union with), is Nature, the All, “Oneness” or what the ancient world called Anima Mundi, the world soul. Biblically however, the nephesh or animal soul is what is vulnerable, what sins and dies (Ezek 18:20) and negatively can even be biblical “flesh” or lower nature. Outside the bible, a notable mystic, Juliana of Norwich, would maintain the redeemed are those who have never sinned against God in the spirit. Be that as it may, we can say the spirit is closest to God.
BUT HELL IS FIRE?
So God is (spiritual) fire….but so is hell, and at the same time as it is also called “destruction” and “outer darkness”. How and Why? It’s because everything and everyone exists through God (Col 1:17) so….the same fire that lights the redeemed, burns the damned (a claim often made in Greek Orthodoxy).
You can argue such proximity and co-existence must be impossible or unbiblical. But it’s as good as affirmed, not least in Revelation where it’s said that those who took the Mark of the Beast (the devil’s mark) will be tormented day and night “in the presence of the holy angels and the Lamb”. Rev 14:10). So the damned members of the devil’s party are in heaven?
No, and heaven has more and happily to do than to keep watching any torture, but because God sustains everything, heaven does register, necessarily registers, that justice exists and is done as an eternal aspect of God. (Concerning “justice” more presently). It follows the meaning here is that the damned are present to the light of God, can see and be seen just as in Jesus’ story of Lazarus, the damned rich man still perceives the finally glorified beggar afar off (Luk 17:23).
This degree of seeing is possible because, as said, everything and everyone exists through God who is fire and light. Hell’s fire however is what is the furthest removed from the light source and is only a kind of fire. Just that would seem the problem for souls caught there.
Jesus’ damned rich man who wants Lazarus to bring him even just a drop of water, is not enjoying the benefits of the other companion elements to the originating fire, namely earth, air and water which together would support love and pleasurable existence. Which means the excluded are left thirsty souls and “hungry ghosts’ as per many traditions, trapped, non-functional sufferers, separated by a “great divide” yet which is still part of a whole. Evidently Hell is existence through God, but as fire alone, while the precise torment that this diminished existence entails is related to habitual character – “with the measure you use it will be measured back to you” (Matt 7:2). Thus the rich man who was always unmerciful and ungiving receives nothing he requests.
And the suffering goes on both before the Last Judgement and after it when the damned and Hades (Hell) and Death itself are finally cast along with the fallen angels (who till that point have perhaps acted as tormentors), into the Lake of Fire (Rev 20:14)…
HELL AND TIME
This sounds so ghastly all sorts of arguments are adduced to support belief in a non-eternal hell or eventual annihilation of the damned (Pope Francis assumes that) but they don’t work or fit biblically, nor even with quite a few alleged NDEs.
As regards hell and the time factor, once dead and out of the body, time as we know it, (which is something measured here against space as we know and understand it), either doesn’t exist at all, or exists on some hugely different scale as when it’s said a thousand years are like a day to God (2 Pet 3:8). Regardless, what the experience of hell (as of heaven) is, is one of complete immediacy, of nowness. Accordingly it’s not a case of hell for a million years and then all over again, it’s simply suffering now. And most essentially it is so because God as the life and joy principle has been rejected by the will and/or blocked in its natural function by disbelief.
HELL AND LOVE
Paradoxically a lot of the torment, at least for those relatively innocent and not obviously extreme sinners, could be due precisely to the fact that God is love. Love depends upon the existence of freewill and choice; it cannot be imposed. As a result absolute open conscious ;efusal of God can engage consequences akin to more active sin. And any divine love must, besides, consider the greatest possible good for the greatest number. Many genuinely innocent victims of evil like the poor and children, are needlessly suffering in ways that divine justice must bring to an end.
But what exists within time must be brought to an end within time. An endless wait upon some change of outlook and attitude in the recalcitrant is something not envisaged. Existentially it’s always a case of “Today is the day of salvation” (2 Cor 6:2) the chance for radical change.
In any case, time and history are about an unavoidable larger conflict to be resolved. The underlying belief is that the world is temporarily in the hands of the Satan who even offers it to Jesus on condition (Luk 4:6). But Jesus has appeared “to destroy the works of the devil (1 Joh 3:8). In short, there is a battle to be resolved on the material plane and within time so that it is impossible not to take sides. Revelation is effectively a vision of the last stages of this cosmic spiritual battle.
HELL AND WHAT GOD CANNOT DO
There’s not much that God cannot do and it’s said “with God all things are possible” (Matt 19: 26), but there is an exception to this. God as creator and the resurrected one is the Lord of Life. As such, without self-contradiction, God cannot kill outright. True, there are places and passages in for example Hosea and certainly in Revelation where God is seen as destroying life, but this must be understood as involving the sin-capable soul, that must sooner or later die, not the core spirit. “But rather fear him who is able to destroy both body and soul (psyche) in hell (Matt 10:28). The spirit (pneuma) is not seen as destroyed. The spirit is immortal and must exist and reside somewhere. As God will not and cannot kill the spirit, but the individual may not be fit for heaven, effectively the individual can only be quarantined in hell.
Today it is widely expected dead persons if they haven’t been too bad, automatically proceed to the heaven of angels. In the times of Jesus the accepted view was less hopeful and sentimental and was that apart from a few distinguished exceptions like battle heroes, everyone went down to Hades and the dark. You could ask the gods for anything but not for immortality, it was accepted they didn’t deal in it and weren’t necessarily immortal themselves. The account in Homer’s Odyssey of a visit to the place of the dead who are made to appear through blood sacrifice, is ghoulish and unsettling and Virgil’s account of the Underworld in the Aenid is not greatly reassuring either. Plainly early Christians were much influenced by the account and promise of bodily resurrection and related eternal life that was fundamental to gospel proclamation.
HELL AS SEPARATION
Jesus died and went down to Hades to preach to the souls there (1 Pet 3:19). It is a popular modern error to suppose that the crucified Jesus who asks why God has forsaken him was doubting God the Father and awaiting his annihilation. He was reciting from the death Psalm 22 which contains the relevant words. The anguish should be seen as the supreme moment of the atonement sacrifice, (the death for others) This is paid for not least by temporarily becoming sin which separates him from his natural Trinitarian relation to the Father, separation being the purest experience of hell. (According to the OT, anyone left hung on a “tree” as was Jesus on a wooden cross, was deemed accursed of God. Deut 21: 22,23) so the separation curse was understood as operative in Jesus’ case.
Hell is where any positive aspect of God absolutely isn’t .”Every good gift and every pure gift is from above and comes from the father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning” (Jas 1. 17). It follows that hell is describable in terms of otherworld opposites. Beyond a few details like fire, outer darkness and devouring worms, the bible holds little in description of hell. But at least some visions and NDEs of hell make plausible sense with their sharp opposites to heaven, like intolerable wailing and noise as opposed to celestial peace and melody, insufferable stench in contrast to the noted fragrance of celestial realms, isolation as opposed to the companionship of heaven.
BEFORE HEAVEN AND HELL PROPER
But whether it’s a case of heaven or hell, though vision may reveal something, full entry to either place/state is normally impossible without a suitable bodily vehicle to do so. NDEs purporting to see and dead relatives in paradise zone, if valid, are meeting forms of still unresurrected souls outside of heaven proper, (Paradise signifying as in Persian culture the gardens outside the palace heaven). Job famously declares that in his flesh in effect resurrected, he will see God (Job 9:26). There is a resurrection of the just and the unjust (Acts 24:15), a glorified body and an accursed one and certainly, “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of heaven” 1 Cor 15:50). But such resurrected conditions belong to the end times which are unavoidable.
Short of permitting evil and tragedy to continue ad infinitum while persons evolve, the perfection of God and heaven cannot allow casual entry on the basis of some partial merit. Heaven and immortality are serious business, not necessarily covered by a passing RIP thought! Ignorance might excuse up to a point, but good works are insufficient for heaven which strictly speaking requires a Christ based covering or imputed righteousness (argued for in Rom 3-5) that only faith can obtain so that, partaking in Christ, one is seen by God in some sense as Christ, a child by adoption.
The so-called Rapture, which Tsarfati stresses, though it is only implicit in Revelation, is “the blessed hope” of believers from earliest times, a sudden deliverance/resurrection of prepared believers to the presence of Christ and his judgement seat and avoiding the Tribulation. (Not implausibly, Tsarfati notes the first four chapters of Revelation are involved with issues around churches real and prophetic and then, following a trumpet summons to “come up here”, which could be the last trump of believers’ resurrection as per St Paul, nothing is heard about the church until much later – an interval arguably comprising the Tribulation years on earth)
Such beliefs raise many questions around who can, should and will be “saved” in which context and I will turn presently to this thorny issue. But despite all the differences, all parties can be considered basically correct and agreed when they place the whole question in the context of the withdrawal or distance of the perfect Creator from imperfect humanity and world and the problem this entails. This is, besides, an area in which the bible comes closest to world myths and religions which contain some notion of a crisis involving the withdrawal of an angered or disappointed Creator God.
The biblical narrative does not, however like other traditions, accept any later arrived substitute deities (which it would see only as fallen angels masquerading as gods), but retains the original creation and crisis/fall style picture. This underlies certain notions of judgement, end times and apocalypse that can then be challenging to popular images of a loving God. But one must read carefully.
As presented in Revelation all the judgements that strike the world during the years of Tribulation from “the Day of the Lord”(a time of judgement) onwards, are seen as directly sent by God and, to make the pagan comparison, striking like Zeus’s thunderbolts. Given the tenor and principles of the bible at large, in effect the judgements occur more through the permissive will of God. They are what the Creator allows and uses by way of warning and example and almost inevitably so as he increasingly withdraws from the mounting evil he does not reckon to sustain in existence. The “wrath” of God is identical with the withdrawal and absence of God. Where God is absent and excluded by humans, things take their natural course towards chaos – Hell, the place of God’s absence, is also called “destruction”.
Unless it is to send helpful prophets like Elisha or Jesus the Messiah himself, the perfection of God does not allow direct intervention against disaster and breakdown that can strike the righteous and unrighteous alike. Nor does it favour instruction through just blessings (themselves liable to be interpreted as approval of persons and/or indifference to evil deeds). If societies including believers are under God’s “wrath” it’s more a case of “whom the Lord loves he chastens” (Heb 12:6) and/or an extension of what Nature (which the Creator indwells) has already set in motion through natural disaster.
In the more spiritual/occult/esoteric realms of scriptural worldview, there is not just science and climate change and natural disasters, there can be a sentient nature that reacts and protests. “The whole creation groans and travails with birth pangs”(Rom 8:22) – towards redemption is specifically indicated, but the principle allows nature can also be angry and protest misuse.
SMALL AND GREAT MERCIES
Does Revelation depict any kind of mercy for those who have not escaped the Tribulation itself? A brief and superficial reading will be inclined to say no, but this can be questioned even if it’s a case of small or strange mercy. It is a peculiarity of the unfolding judgements that one of them comes early with the seals judgment (Rev 6:8) in which a fourth of the whole earth is killed, the sort of thing one might have expected to accompany the final bowls of judgement. What’s positive here, anything?
To the extent the drama of Revelation somewhat pivots on the theme of a false Messiah’s rule and the dire consequences of taking the (satanic) Mark of the Beast, the many who die early on will not be taking that Mark. Whatever their spiritual status and beliefs, and even if they are hell bound, theirs would still be a lesser perdition. God doesn’t wish that any be lost (2 Pet 3:9) and that God can be merciful to even the damned is indicated by the account of the healing of the demoniac in Mark 5. The demon who is Legion, many, and who would be a fallen angel, begs Jesus not to be sent from the area (i.e not be sent to the pits of hell). He/they is allowed as requested to enter the pigs in the region.
Even those who survive the early disasters decimating the earth in Revelation will still be mercifully warned with unprecedented clarity (an angel will warn them) not to take the Mark but to accept the “eternal gospel”. So mercy is operative in its way, though one may wonder at this stage in Revelation’s vision what “the eternal gospel” is. Perhaps some last minute very minimalist acceptance of the Creator as Lord and specifically named (ie not a name according to any and every faith tradition).
FAITH AND SALVATION
Present as an issue from the first when we see it’s right trust and belief alone secures the penitent crucified thief Jesus’ promise of paradise, especially amid today’s inclusivism the role for Christianity of specific creedal belief is important to grasp . It is related to the status of the religion as a grace and relationship faith as opposed to the usual alternative of a works and knowledge one. Good works express faith but don ‘t secure salvation (“lest any boast” Eph 2:9). And knowledge that is not of Christ is not definitive spiritual knowledge of a required divine wisdom hid in mystery ( 1 Cor 2:6) – it could otherwise even be Luciferian light or knowledge from the serpent – even gentle Buddhism has snakes arise to protect Buddha at the time of his enlightenment.
Words matter and have power – Jesus himself is called the Logos or Word of God. As opposed to some buy or earn works system of salvation , If sincerely understood and meant, the insistence on repentance (metanoia – mind change) and accompanying right belief, functions vitally in promoting right direction of the will . This needs to be subject to Truth-in-itself which again Jesus is as “the Way, the Truth and the Life” (Joh 14:6) against the world of lies belonging to the Satan and Antichrist.
Believers in Christ are “disciples”, pupils of a guru-style teacher. The requirement of especially belief signals what is most necessary, the attitude of trust without which progress to the kingdom of heaven cannot be made. In a free will universe choice has to be offered Even forgiveness and reconciliation cannot be imposed but rather chosen. We cannot know who “the elect” are nor quite what “predestination” really means, but if there is any underlying principle it might be the elect are those who, however undeserving, at least have the quality of teachability.
The gospel that was and is intended to be preached and received, and which as per 1 Cor 15:1-5) most essentially entails belief in Jesus’ death for sins and his bodily resurrection, remains fairly non-negotiable. But who can and will be saved is not so exclusive as some unnecessarily make it. And not least if and when they teach on Revelation. Thus one may find for some odd reason, the fact that at the Last Judgement it is said everyone will be judged by their works (Rev 20:12) has been taken to mean that souls will be resurrected to learn their fate for their evil deeds! And this because no one who did not believe in Christ (which most people across history and outside the West have not done nor had the chance to) cannot be saved. This is nonsense that denies the same bible these same people claim in authority.
When St Paul preached to pagans in Athens he assumed there are dispensations so declared that “the times of ignorance God overlooked, but now (the new Christian era) God calls all to repent (Acts 17:30). This and more he says indicates how ignorance is taken into account. As he says in Romans, on the last day the thinking of the pagans may accuse or excuse them Rom 2:15). Also in apparent agreement with his teaching that the unbelieving spouse is sanctified by the believing one, he accepted that the Corinthians were baptizing for their dead Cor 15: 29) presumably as far as possible reclaiming them.
Regardless, the behaviour and life decisions of those outside Christ are something only God can hope to judge. Some will have sinned without knowing it while others, as per Jesus’ parable of the sheep and the goats will even have served God without knowing it. If on the one hand Revelation could indicate few will be saved, it can also indicate many will be saved, as heaven is said to hold a multitude of souls, “too many to number” (Rev 7:9).
The odd oversights and exaggerated claims about salvation are compounded by a kind of false authority claimed by especially conservative Christians promoting apocalyptic views and quoting “God’s Word” in support of them . By this they mean their bible, preferably the poetic but archaic King James version rather than Jesus himself as God’s Logos. For some the bible becomes a paper Pope, so glorified it creates inevitable dismissal, bewilderment and disillusion among today’s many biblically illiterate persons if they once open a bible.
Over-selling the bible once went so far that the koine (popular as opposed to classical Greek) of the New Testament before it was understood to be a vernacular was explained as the language of the Holy Spirit! In the same way there remain enough occasional puzzles, apparent contradictions and translation issues in the bible for it not to be so loosely referred to as “God’s Word” as though it can always be taken at face value without need of commentary or improved translation. Taken at face value “God’s Word” may even occasionally sound plain dotty or dangerous as when the Sermon on the Mount settles possible hell fire upon anyone who says his brother is a fool,(Matt 4:22) a common enough occurrence. (However arguably there is by now almost vested interest in not understanding or translating for the true application) (1).
Although managing to avoid the worst excesses of those “God’s Word” people on apocalyptic times and theology, Tsarfati’s understanding of Revelation, and all related bible prophecies, does have a major omission. Celestial factors, astrological symbolism aren’t in the picture as they should be. They count as much as the Bethlehem Star and the skies of Christ’s birth heralded the birth of a Messiah and a new era down to the last symbol from the wheat bread of Virgo to the fish of Pisces and fishers of men on the lake of Galilee..
“God’s Word” people complain of mockery and rejection for even mentioning any return of Jesus and approaching apocalyptic events; but for the average person, to broach the subject in terms of the upheaval and trauma of Pisces to Aquarius era change would ;ike;y facilitate at least some conversation and greater clarity.
The four beasts around the throne in the vision of Ezekiel are the four fixed signs of astrology, the obvious but only possibility Tsarfati doesn’t see fit to mention among his list of possibilities. Some basic astrology can simplify life and faith alike and it would be nice to think Jesus really did reveal things about astrology to the late Jeane Dixon in St Matthew’s Cathedral and such that she could forecast one day astrology will become part of basic education curricula….It could actually help and resolve a few riddles.
Strong believers can agonize over why two people with faith don’t receive simultaneous healing prayed for at the same occasion. The secret is a miracle will not manifest for someone under a Saturn transit but it can do so for someone under one of Jupiter. This kind of perspective gets deemed biblically verboten “divination” as opposed to the empirical study of cycles it is in reality.
But whether one looks at the conservative or liberal branches of the churches today, either way confusion seems predominant and a kind of spiritual decadence increases. There is little agreement on anything, and like the last church of Revelation, Laodicea, the feeling is neither exactly hot or cold. Heaven is little named amid the extensive this-worldly focus and the faith is little geared to the original proclamation (“Repent and believe the gospel”Mk 1:14) but justified in its existence as scarcely more than a therapeutic cure or a branch of social services, Once the extent of the sleepy betrayal of essentials is realized, study of “last days” may appear more relevant and refreshingly transcendent amid the dismally widespread fear and uncertainty.
1. Two examples of exaggerated or mistaken reading of texts touching on sexual issues and in a way to bewilder modern minds, are the following. The Sermon on the Mount seeks to interiorize the commandments. Gune means woman married or unmarried, but since Jesus is speaking to the law against adultery, the meaning of not looking at a woman to lust after her (Matt 5:28), is most essentially about harbouring intentions towards other men’s wives. The text has been dangerously read and preached to monkishly render any inevitable, normal or accidental sex feeling a guilty offence. Jesus also equates treasured anger and prejudice with the roots of murder. The bizarre “fool” verse (Matt 5:22) ignores that in the Aramaic used, this was insult language, “effeminate pervert” and like cursing someone as a faggot. It’s not so long ago pleading “gay panic” at law was a means of getting off killing a real or imagined gay person. It seems likely Jesus took a probably then widespread almost automatic homophobia as symbol of all prejudices like racism furthering violence and even to the point of murder. If so, this belongs with numbers of hidden factors that could have helped solve the gay issue long ago instead of staying around uncommented to give the impression Jesus said merely odd inexplicable things.