THIS powerful short book originates in five Lenten lectures delivered in south London by the veteran scholar and Bishop of Thetford. Written at a period of persecution in the very early Christian society, the Apocalypse provides a kaleidoscope of images (which Atkinson likens to political cartoons) of two powers at war with one another, the threatening Roman Empire and the power of Christ, promising that the latter will prevail.
At every stage, the message is applied to the Church in today’s world: how far have the Christian churches accommodated themselves to the evil forces of the world, the “deified Market”, ecological destruction, and other totalitarian systems? “The question for Ephesus is also the question for Evanston and Eastbourne,” Atkinson says.
The constant repetition of the number seven, the number of completion, emphasises that the message applies to the whole of creation. The world is the theatre of God’s glory, Calvin said; and this is illustrated by the four living creatures mentioned in the biblical creation-account (birds, animals, cattle, humans — not representing simply the four Evangelists) at war with the four horsemen, the agents of destruction (oppression, civil war, economic injustice, and pestilence).
The Woman gives birth to the Messiah, a new Israel, and, finally, the picture of the prostitute Rome or Babylon fades as the picture of the New Jerusalem comes into focus: the fulfilment of the petition in the Lord’s Prayer, “thy kingdom come.” This is the promised new world, a city of flowing life, symbolised by the stream of water flowing down the middle of city and including even the Gentiles. This is a challenging book: the victory is sure, but is not to be won easily.
Fr Henry Wansbrough OSB is a monk of Ampleforth, emeritus Master of St Benet’s Hall, Oxford, and a member of the Pontifical Biblical Commission.
The Apocalypse of Jesus Christ: Meditations on themes from the book of Revelation
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