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By Father Steven Tsichlisfrom our Ambassador publication for January 2000 In recent years David Koresh and the Branch Davidian group in Waco, TX drew heavily from the Book of Revelation to construct a terminally twisted cult. Christian bookstores across the country are today full of novels and pulp theology that use the Book of Revelation like a deck of tarot cards to forecast the future. A recent Associated Press story (November 14, 1997) announced that one in four adults in America expects Christ to return very soon, or certainly in their lifetime.The Tribulation Force is coming soon to a theatre near you! The Omega Code opened this past October 15th and stars Michael York as the Antichrist. Not to be outdone, Universal Studios recently unleashed End of Days, an expensive, effects-laden thriller starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. The popularity of these movies, which mix elements of horror and action-adventure, have led many both outside and inside the Church to a poor understanding of the Book of Revelation. These movies both trivialize and sensationalize the Bible. And, as we move inexorably towards Y2K, the hype will continue until the requisite profits are made.But what does the Book of Revelation actually say? What did John, the apostle, evangelist, theologian and seer mean by the many images, symbols and metaphors used in Revelation to convey the Gospel: the Lamb, the Beast, the Dragon, 666, Babylon, Armageddon and the New Jerusalem? John was a gifted artist and storyteller, but his aim was not entertainment. John gives us theology in word-pictures and he has an absolutely serious message to convey. John, a prisoner on the island of Patmos for his Christian beliefs, receives a revelation on the Lords Day (Sunday) and is commanded to write in a book what you see and send it to the seven churches: Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea (Revelation 1:10-11). John wrote to seven real congregations in seven real cities of the ancient Roman empires province of Asia Minor, in what is today Turkey. He names those cities in the order a real messenger would encounter them on a circuit ride around the region. He expected those in first-century churches to understand what he was writing to them. Wake up! John called to the first-century Christians of Asia Minor. You are compromising faithfulness to Jesus in order to fit into a pagan world. Wake up! Rome is a Beast that takes its power from Satan and receives worship that belongs to God alone. Wake up! This city and its empire are full of violence and idolatry. God is about to call Rome and its allies to judgement. Johns most immediate concern is that some Christians had compromised their faith and were too cozy with the pagan world in which they lived How are we to understand the many symbols and images John uses to convey his concern? One way, hopefully without sounding too blasphemous, is to think of the imagery of Revelation as a kind of holy political cartoon not that John is trying to be funny. Political cartoonists routinely represent entire nations or historical entities with colorful characters. The Republican party is an elephant and the Democratic party is a donkey and the Y2K presidential election is a horse race. Russia is a bear and the US...read more
By Rev. Dr. Theodore G. Stylianopoulos, Archbishop Iakovos Professor of Orthodox Theology and Professor of New Testament Casting Judas not as a culpable betrayer, but as an intimate friend and collaborator of Jesus, the recently announced Gospel of Judas has understandably generated a stir. However, what the ancient document says about Jesus is even more controversial. According to this “Gospel,” Jesus was a bearer of a deep secret that apparently he revealed to no other disciple except Judas; and then got his help to die that his spirit may be released to some heavenly realm. Recruited for this purpose, Judas then “betrays” the Master as an act of intimate friendship. This is heady stuff. Does the Gospel of Judas cast doubts on the accounts of the four traditional Gospels and, implicitly, on all early Christianity? The fact that the Gospel of Judas has been authenticated as belonging to the third century, the original written about a century earlier, does not of course mean what it says is true. St. Irenaeus of Lyons (ca. 180 AD) knew about it and denounced it as heresy. Many other Church Fathers and theologians have, before and after Irenaeus, refuted the same kind of thinking found in dozens of similar documents which distorted the apostolic faith. Scholars have called that religious ideology Gnosticism, a phenomenon that flourished mainly in the second century and created serious problems for the Church. Since the late 1940’s, when a slew of them were found buried in the dry sands of Egypt, scholars have been able to study these document first hand. In the National Geographic documentary featuring the Gospel of Judas, biblical scholar Craig Evans, near the end of the film, bluntly stated that nothing new and nothing historically authentic is to be found in the document. Although the documentary leaned to the opposite view, most scholars will probably agree with Evans. The Gospel of Judas is but another small window to Gnosticism, a hodgepodge of religious speculations that exploded on the scene during the second century. At that time, individual intellectuals or small and elitist groups around them, bothered by the basic story of the Bible, especially the “violent” God of the Old Testament and the “scandalous” death and resurrection of Jesus, generated their own religious philosophy. They combined Jewish, Christian and pagan elements to construct literally fantastic systems of speculation including astrology and magic. The core theme, found in the Gospel of Judas, is secret knowledge (gnosis) that leads to salvation. What was that secret knowledge about? It was essentially about the Gnostic system itself that roughly runs as follows: A higher god, infinitely superior to the God of the Old Testament, sends periodic illuminators to earth with a secret message to draw back to heaven the inner divine sparks of receptive human beings hopelessly caught in utter darkness. According to this worldview, the Old Testament God is an inferior and ignorant God, responsible for creating the lowest sphere of existence, the earth, where all the evil of the cosmos had dredged. Material things, including human bodies, if not evil, are the seat of evil, and to be escaped from. So in Gnostic thinking the eternal Christ, who was the son of the higher god and not the Son of the God of the Old Testament,...read more