The liturgical character of sections in Revelation has often been pointed out; but I have seen no attempt to study and elucidate the liturgical scaffolding into which the visions are built. Archbishop Benson came very near to it when he treated the book as a drama, and printed it so as to display the choric structure. But Revelation is not a drama; it is a liturgy. A drama deals with the unfolding of personality, and the actors in it must use their own personalities to interpret it. In liturgy the hierophants must submerge their personalities and identities in the movement of the whole composition. It is a real literary triumph that a sustained poem like Revelation should grip the attention as it does without the assistance of human interest in character; and that triumph is liturgical in character.
The author of the Revelation frequented the temple and loved its liturgy; when he shut his eyes in Ephesus, he could see the priests going about their appointed tasks at the great altar of burnt-offering. That vision forms the background of the whole poem.
I am astonished to find so few discussions on the temple ritual, not only in connection with the Revelation, but also in connection with the Palestinian background of the New Testament generally. The recent advance in this study has concerned itself with the eschatological literature, and the oral teaching of the Rabbis; it has neglected the temple, its priesthood, and worship. But in the New Testament period the temple system was central; after its destruction the Rabbis organized a new Judaism on enlightened Pharisee lines. But it was a new religion, not the old. The old religion died in the year A.D. 70, and gave birth to two children; the elder was modern Judaism without temple or priest or sacrifice; the younger was Christianity, which was proud of possessing all three.
What links Hebrews with Revelation is its insistence on this fact. Christianity is the true heir of the old faith. To it have been transferred the priesthood and the sacrifice.
The New Universal Worship
When St. John came to the work of publishing his visions twenty years after Jerusalem had fallen, one of his main tasks was to provide a scheme or pattern for Christian worship. There can be no doubt that he set himself to do this consciously and deliberately; what is more, he was successful. The ”Anaphora,” as the consecration prayer of the Eucharist is called in the East, follows the pattern he laid down. The “Canon” of the Roman Mass and the Consecration Prayer of the English Prayer Book do so, though less faithfully.
It seems reasonable to suppose that his liturgical work was not done at random or in a spirit of theory. It must have borne some sort of relation to the way Christian worship was actually conducted at the time; analogy suggests that if the older part of the book reflected the worship of the old religion that had passed away, the newer part would reflect that of the new religion which had taken its place. Now the opening chapters 4 and 5, though they belong to the later period of St. John’s inspiration, do seem to be built upon a foundation of older work, in which the following changes appear to have been made: (1) a Throne takes the place of an Altar, and (2) Twenty-four Elders on Thrones are added. (See Charles, ad. loc.) But these changes correspond to the picture of the Christian congregation of the period suggested in the writings of St. Ignatius (see Rawlinson in Foundations, on “The Origins of the Christian Ministry”). The Throne of God represents the chair of the bishop, and around him are grouped the Elders. The number is chosen because of the Twenty-four courses into which the Hebrew Priesthood (and even the Levites and people) had been divided; we may compare the picture of the High Priest Simon in Ecclesiasticus I with his “garland” of priests.
We may therefore feel some confidence that we have before us the actual arrangements of the Christian liturgy, which was in its turn dependent on Hebrew origins.
I have dealt in the text with the parallelisms between the Four Zoa [living creatures], the Seven Lamps, the Glassy Sea, etc., and the Cherubim, Candlestick, and Laver of the Temple. In St. John they are variously applied to the universal worship of all creation. This universal worship finds expression in the Sanctus (Holy, Holy, Holy), which is also used in the morning prayers of the synagogue, where it is associated with the thought of creation; in the Revelation the praise of God for his creation is uttered by the Elders, who prostrate themselves at the sound of the Sanctus.
This is the “first movement” of the Anaphora, of the Christian Eucharist, in which men “join with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven.” Most of the Greek liturgies show traces of the ”Axios” or “Axion” (worthy) of Revelation; at rather a long remove it is reflected in “It is meet and right (justurn et dignurn) so to do.”
The Revelation of St. John then proceeds to show us the Lamb as it had been slain for Sacrifice; and the Christian liturgies follow him by narrating the life and death of Christ, and so leading up to the consecration and offering. The word Standing, which is applied to the Lamb, is a translation of Tamid, the technical name for the lamb which was offered every morning in the temple as a whole burnt-offering. It was the “standing offering.”
This is followed by the offering of Incense, which stands for intercessory prayer; and then comes a New Song. The New Song was also mentioned in a hymn used in the temple after the killing of the lamb, and before the Incense. I shall refer to it later.
The liturgy ends with praise to God and the Lamb, and the singing of the Amen, which was characteristic of the Eucharist at this point. All the liturgies follow this outline, and it is from this point onwards that they vary. The first two parts of the Te Deum follow the same lines of construction.
We now turn to chapter 7, verses 9 to 17, a short passage which is also the work of the latest period, anticipating the end of the book. It represents the worship of the Martyrs in heaven.
The thought of martyrdom as sacrifice is as early as the Maccabean period, and has behind it Isaiah 53. The man who gives his life for God or country is both priest and victim; he offers, but what he offers is himself. In Revelation his priesthood is dependent upon that of Christ.
In chapter 1 Christ has been shown as priest and King. He is wearing the long white robe and the girdle at the breast; he stands “in the midst of” the seven lamps; that is to say, he is in the sanctuary where the seven-branched candlestick is, and robed like a priest. This plain linen was worn by the high priest on the Day of Atonement. At the end of Revelation the same figure comes out of the sanctuary with the same robe splashed with blood.
The martyrs also wear white robes, which are connected with that of Christ by the statement that they are washed in the blood of the lamb; the same mixed character of priest and victim belongs both to the martyrs and their lord; but their deaths are lifted to the level of sacrifice by association with his.
The martyrs offered their bodies, and more than their bodies: their lives, their courage, their patient endurance; this is the living sacrifice of Romans 12, holy, acceptable, your logical worship. Giving the word body this wide sense, we may well agree that the white robes mean all that the martyrs offered to God, purified now in the blood of the perfect sacrifice.
Later on the white robes are called fine linen, which is priestly material.
In the text of the book I have compared the palms and the hosanna (Salvation) to the triumphal entry of Christ into Jerusalem, his going up to be sacrificed. This is only part of a wider comparison. Both are connected with the ritual of the Feast of Tabernacles, which occurred at the time of Ingathering, when the vintage and all the other harvests were in. In this festival priests encircled the altar waving palms and singing Hosanna; here the martyr-priests are in the sanctuary waving palms and singing hosanna round the throne which has taken the place of the altar.
The thought of Tabernacles is carried further in the statement that God will Tabernacle upon them; they are themselves to be his Tabernacle or dwelling-place.
We turn to the end of the book for the fourth and last section dealing with Christian worship. In 21:3 the last statement is taken up again. It is, strange to say, a quotation from Leviticus, where it implies that the holy God will dwell among a holy people. Here it is widened to mean that men generally make up the sanctuary of God; his Tabernacling is with them. The noun and verb “Tabernacle” are connected with the Hebrew Shekinah, the visible glory of God which is said to have filled the tabernacle in the desert and the temple when Solomon consecrated it. St. John is announcing, therefore, that the old local sanctuary is gone, and henceforth the Presence is with men in general, and God is making himself visible in and through them.
The thought is developed in the Epilogue which begins with verse 9. It is first repeated in the language of symbolism. The holy city has the Glory of God; its lustre is like the Jasper Stone; in chapter 4 God was said to be like the Jasper Stone, so that all this only repeats the previous statement about the Tabernacling. God’s “visible” Presence is in this city. It replaces the old temple. The whole city is filled with the Presence, not merely a sacred part of it. Even its foundation is Jasper – that is to say, divine. The precious stones built into its walls mean the elect souls in which God dwells; the twelve foundations being the apostles of the lamb. The clear bright gold of its streets means that God’s tabernacle is built out of the pure in heart; this symbolism corresponds to that of the white robes.
There was no sanctuary in it; that is to say, the Presence is not localised. There is no alternation of light and dark upon it; no need to calculate suns and moons; it lives in the perpetual light of the Presence. No seven-branched lamp needs to be kindled to burn through the night; the Lamb is the lamp.
Through the lives of the elect souls in which God dwells the light shall shine into the world. The community of the elect is wide open; its gates are never shut. It has no national distinctions. The kings of the earth bring their glory into it; a reference to the sacrifices offered by Roman emperors and others at Jerusalem. The honour they gave to that sanctuary shall come to this. Free to all shall be the waters and fruits of the spiritual paradise.
No hereditary and monopolist priesthood shall have sole possession of this sanctuary and mediate between God and his people. All his servants shall stand in his presence, and everyone of them shall be like the high priest, and have his name on their foreheads. Open universal vision: open universal priesthood.
This epilogue builds up a picture of the Catholic church in which it is contrasted at every point with the old Jewish temple, and shown to be more glorious because every part of it is filled with the illumination of the Presence which had been confined to the Holy of Holies. St. John deliberately avoids all the ornaments of temple worship – white robes, golden girdles, harps, incense, altar; they are all gone. Note also its square shape, its gates, and its living waters, which are all taken from Ezekiel’s temple.
The Temple Sacrifice
We have gone through the later additions to St. John’s poem and seen how illuminating it is to test them from the liturgical point of view; we now turn to the older visions which are preserved within this scaffolding.
Chapters 1 to 5 are new material which forms an introduction to this older system; and no doubt older elements are to be found in them. I have pointed out already how the High Priest is to be seen in the vision of Christ in chapter 1, the sanctuary and its ornaments in chapter 4, and the slain lamb in chapter 5.
Let me now outline the course of the daily burnt-offering at the temple; it may be divided as follows:
- The killing of the lamb.
- The preparation of the offerings.
- Interval for prayer.
- Offering of Incense.
- The burning of the offering.
- Psalms, etc. The “shout.”
- Feasting on the sacrifice: if a sin-offering.
- The Killing of the Lamb. – Four events took place simultaneously: the trumpet was blown three times, and the gates of the temple and the gates of the sanctuary were opened; at the same moment the lamb was killed and its blood dashed against the altar.
Of necessity St. John must begin with the lamb killed, as he wishes to work it into the Christian scheme of worship which he has prefixed to his older series of visions; v. 6 is therefore the culmination of one and the opening of the other. I saw a lamb standing as sacrificed. I have already pointed out that the word “standing” is a literal translation of Tamid, the technical name for the morning burnt-offering. The verse should therefore be translated, “I saw the lamb of the Tamid as slain.” The expression recurs in 14:1.
(A “New Song” is sung by the Twenty-four Elders, who now have harps and incense as priests; but this has to do with the Christian scheme, which overlaps at this point. The “New Song” in the temple came a little later; and St. John has deferred it till 14:3.)
Passing over the non-liturgical episode of the Four Horsemen, we come to the souls under the altar (6:9). Immediately after the lamb was killed its blood was splashed on to the altar; there is a strong connection in Hebrew thought between blood and soul, and the souls here are described as the souls of the sacrificed. They pray also for vengeance on their blood. The blood is thought of as poured on the ground; the blood-soul is thought of as going up to Jehovah. The same thought ultimately underlies the blood sacrifice and blood vengeance. We see that already the deaths of the innocent dead are associated with the death of the Lamb; perhaps they are thought of as cleansed by his blood, for they are given a white robe (see above).
Passing over the sixth seal and the later Christian liturgical passage which has been linked to it, we come to the trumpets and the incense offering (8:1). The incense offering appears to be out of its place, and we will neglect it for the moment, noting, however, the feeling of St. John for correct and beautiful ceremonial. One of the beauties of ceremonial is simultaneous action designed to prevent delay while preparations are being made.
- Seven angels are given seven trumpets.
- The Incense is offered.
- The trumpets are sounded.
The same particularity is shown in the case of the seven bowls (see 15:1).
Let us return to the killing of the lamb. The signal for the killing of the lamb was three blasts on the trumpet; these three blasts were also a signal for the gates of the temple and sanctuary to be opened. This is what we find in St. John:
Seven Trumpets (8:1 to 11:18).
Opening of the Sanctuary of God in Heaven (ll:19).
We are justified in concluding, therefore, that he is following, though in a rough manner, the temple ceremonial. The likeness becomes more exact when we recollect that Dr. Charles has given very good reason to suppose that in Revelation also the number of trumpets was originally three. The argument from ceremonial converts Dr. Charles’ hypothesis into a certainty. The series of seven seals and seven trumpets as I have observed in the text of my book, is not a key to the construction of Revelation; it obscures it; it was introduced to bind together visions that did not cohere.
In dealing with the Naos or Sanctuary in Heaven, we are on very delicate ground. Two things seem clear. One is that the “visible” Presence or Glory is departed from Jerusalem so that the Naos there is a Naos no longer; the other is that the Naos in heaven is the number of elect believers in which the Presence is henceforth to Tabernacle. It is universal, in the “heavens,” open to all. I believe that the older series of visions was to have ended, or perhaps did end, with the descent of this Temple not made with hands. Two traces of it, I think, are to be found: the promise in 3:12, I will make him a pillar in the Naos of my God, and the statement about the triumphant martyrs, 7:15, They serve him day and night in his Naos.
This thought of the new Naos from heaven was superseded by something better, the vision of the New City which has no Naos, and no day or night either.
Now we see why the death of the lamb had to come first. It was the death of Christ that opened the way. When thou hadst overcome the sharpness of death, thou didst open the Kingdom of heaven to all believers. Comparing St. John with the temple ritual, we now get:
Temple. Simultaneous St. John.
Three trumpets. Lamb killed.
Lamb killed. Blood on altar.
Blood splashed on altar. Three trumpets.
Gates opened. Gats opened.
The Incense Offering (Rev. 8:3-5)
Why, then, is the incense offering put in its wrong place?
There are one or two suggestions which can be made on this point. The first is a literary point of some importance. St. John is following out several complicated systems in this book, and the logical order of one sometimes has to give way to another. I have shown how faithfully the order of Revelation follows the book of Ezekiel; now this passage is based on a vision of Ezekiel’s which comes at this point. If he remains true to Ezekiel it must immediately succeed the vision of the sealing.
Further, there was one day of the year when the offering of incense did come earlier; and this day was the Day of Atonement, the only day when the high priest was bound to officiate in person. We shall find other reasons for supposing that St. John has the Day of Atonement in mind. We have had one already. The high priest (Christ) has been shown to us in chapter 1 wearing a white vestment, and the only day the high priest wore white was the Day of Atonement.
If this suggestion is true, St. John has not confined himself to the ceremonial of one type of sacrifice only. His ceremonial is conflate. We may note that he could not have used the Day of Atonement ceremonial only, as he would then have had to have symbolised Christ by a goat.
The ceremony described by St. John seems to be based on the daily ritual, as it is done by an angel, not by Christ the high priest; but possibly this need not be pressed, as the angel symbolises the whole process of intercession. The half-hour’s silence which preceded the incense offering corresponds to the silence and prostration which followed it in the temple system. We may note that in the daily ritual the Naos was entered at this point, and the incense altar cleansed; the heavenly Naos would not need this. On the other hand, when we come to the point where the incense offering took place in the daily ritual, we find that St. John has a very significant passage corresponding to it.
To sum up. St. John desired at this spot to symbolise the prayers of the innocent dead coming before God and being answered. He therefore moves the incense offering to this point, as on the Day of Atonement. He thus preserves his parallelism with Ezekiel.
A long non-liturgical passage follows. The three trumpets are made to symbolise the voice of prophecy in its denunciation of sin. Lengthened to seven, they recall the fall of the city of Jericho (8:6 to 9:21).
Then comes the completion and fulfillment of the prophetic ministry in the Christian evangel, in connection with which he relates his own call, and his peculiar and distinctive work which is to prophesy against Jerusalem. Jerusalem is to be destroyed; the Naos only is to be preserved; and by the Naos we have seen that he means the community of elect souls in which the Presence of God is Tabernacling. The real Israel is now the Christian church (10:1 to 11:13).
All this is concluded by the last trumpet and the opening of the heavenly Naos (11:14-19).
The Great Interlude is also non-liturgical. It narrates the appearance of the Deliverer, his victory over Satan, the persecution of his followers in Jerusalem, and the appearance of the beast (the Roman god-emperor system) which persecutes his followers abroad (12 and 13).
- The Preparation of the Sacrifice. – After the lamb had been killed and its blood splashed on the altar there was still much to be done. It had to be skinned and cut into pieces; its entrails and legs were washed in the laver; and it was laid out on the slope that led up to the altar. The priests then went to the Hall of Polished Stones for Prayers.
Chapter 14 opens with the lamb standing on the Mount Sion, or rather the lamb of the Tamid on Mount Sian. As Mount Sion is the site of the temple, I need not labour the sacrificial aspect of this verse.
With him are the hundred and forty and four thousand who were “sealed”; they have the name of his father written on their foreheads. These are the martyrs, who, together with the lamb, form the sacrifice. They are also priests. The high priest carried on his forehead a golden plate, the petalon, bearing the sacred name of Jehovah, Holiness unto the Lord. In verse 4 they are described as “firstfruits,” a definitely sacrificial term; and in verse 5 they are said to be “without blemish”; a perfect material for sacrifice.
I have dealt in the text with the statement in verse 4 that they were not defiled with women. The priests at the sacrifice had to observe certain ceremonial taboos which kept them technically “holy”; among these was abstinence from intercourse with women.
Then follows the New Song, sung not in the Hall of Polished Stone, but before the Throne; but I shall deal with this later.
After the three woes which are non-liturgical, we find the coming of one like a son of man upon a white cloud, followed by the harvest and vintage of the land. These are strongly liturgical in tone. Let us set it out liturgically.
And I looked and lo a White Cloud, and upon the Cloud one Seated like a Son of Man, having upon his head a Golden crown and in his hand a sharp Sickle.
And another Angel came out of the Naos, crying in a loud voice to the one Seated on the Cloud,
Send thy Sickle and reap: for the hour is come to reap; for the Harvest of the Land is dried up.
And the one Seated on the Cloud put his Sickle to the Land and the Land was reaped.
And another Angel came out of the Naos in Heaven also having a sharp Sickle.
And another Angel came out of the Altar who had charge of the Fire and said with a loud voice to the one that had the Sickle, saying
Send thy sharp Sickle and cut the clusters of the Vine of the Land; for its Grapes are full-ripe.
And the Angel put his Sickle into the Land, and cut the Vine of the Land, and put it into the Great Winepress of the wrath of God.
And the Winepress was trodden outside the City, and there came out Blood from the Winepress.
The liturgical form and tone of this section are obvious, and invite closer study than we were able to give it in the text of the book. It is a very complicated passage.
- Its primary reference is to Mark 13:26, which speaks: (a) of the Son of Man coming on the Clouds, (b) of his sending his Angels to gather the elect into his kingdom, and (c) of the sun darkened, etc., by which is meant the fall of Jerusalem.
- The meaning of a resurrection of the just is impossible as the passage stands, though it may have meant that in an early recension of the poem. As it stands it means the separation of the elect, and their escape from the doom of Jerusalem.
- There is a reference to the Jewish Calendar and the system of feasts observed at the Temple: (a) Passover at the beginning of the year, marking the beginning of harvest, and (b) Tabernacles or Ingathering at the end of the year, marked by the vintage. This allusion relates the vision to our previous supposition that the early recension J ended with symbolism based on Tabernacles. 14:1ff. would have followed this vision.
- The liturgical form suggests that it may be based on the ritual of gathering in the harvest. Now the cutting of the first sheaf was itself a ritual, known as the Omer of Firstfruit. It occurred on Nisan 15, the “high day” of John 19:31, and as it was done at night it was contemporaneous with the resurrection.
Nisan 14. Lamb killed. Crucifixion.
Passover eaten. Burial.
Nisan 15. High day.
Firstfruit cut. Resurrection.
In the year of the crucifixion it chanced that Nisan 15 was also a sabbath; but this was, of course, a coincidence. I have dated the crucifixion, etc., as in the fourth gospel, which I take to be correct; but in any case the references in Revelation are to the crucifixion story as related in that gospel.
- Lightfoot in his account of the Temple and its services gives an outline of the ritual for the Omer.
“Those that the Sanhedrin sent about it went out at the evening of the Holy Day (the first day of the Passover Week); they took baskets and sickles, etc.
“They went out on the Holy Day when it began to be dark, and a great company went out with them; when it was now dark, one said to them,
“On this Sabbath, On this Sabbath, On this Sabbath.
“In this Basket, In this Basket, In this Basket.
“Rabbi Eliezer the son of Zadok saith, With this Sickle, With this
Sickle, With this Sickle, every particular three times over,
“And they answer him, Well, Well, Well; and he bids them reap.”
This is not perhaps on first sight as close a parallel as one might have desired to the passage we are discussing; but there are points of likeness: (a) There was a dialogue which took place at the beginning of harvest. (b) It explicitly mentions the time: This Sabbath = The Hour is come. (c) It explicitly mentions the Sickle. (d) The reaper is then commanded to do his work; but the words of this command are not given. The two dialogues are of the same character, have the same purpose, involve similar speakers, and have points of resemblance; we could not expect much more.
(The word Sabbath demands a note. I think I am right in saying that Nisan 15, though not necessarily a Sabbath, might be called a Sabbath, because it was in every respect equal to a Sabbath and observed in the same way. The breach of the Sabbath involved in cutting the first sheaf was excused.)
- A further very interesting parallel is afforded by the stage we have now reached in the Tamid, or daily offering. To the pieces of the lamb were added (a) the meal offering of fine flour, and (b) the daily offering of the high priest, which consisted of bread and wine. The Son of Man is, of course, the Christian high priest; the wheat harvest and the vintage afford some parallel to the bread and wine. The connection, which seems rather fanciful, will amount to a certainty if we accept the relation proposed in the text of the book between the cutting of the Vine of the land and the murder of the high priest Ananus; for this provides a second point of contact with the thought of the high priest.
To a poet of St. John’s type, the thought of the high priest’s offering of bread and wine would prove a basis for rich and complex symbolism. (a) Considering the crucifixion, there is the thought of the high priest Jesus offering himself on Calvary, and antithetically the thought that his offering was the work of the official high priest Caiaphas; and linked with this the institution of the sacrament of bread and wine the night before the crucifixion. (b) Taking the murder of Ananus as the starting point of the ruin of Jerusalem, there is the thought of the official high priest lying dead, sacrificed, as Josephus describes it, in the courts of the temple itself; a vengeance of blood.
- The Winepress imagery makes clear the blood-vengeance symbolism, and suggests at once the Edomites who murdered Ananus.
The words “outside the City” are the link with the crucifixion, and provide a connection with the sin-offering when it was offered for the high priest or for the whole nation, as in the special case of the Day of Atonement; for it was then that the body of the victim was taken outside the city to be burned. (Note: the Day of Atonement follows the festival of Ingathering.)
The parallelisms in the second section may therefore be summarised as follows:
Temple. St. John.
Preparation of the Lamb.
Pieces laid on the altar. Lamb of the Tamid on Mount Sion.
Offering of the high priest. Appearance of Son of Man.
Those with the Lamb in St. John may perhaps be compared to the numerous free-will offerings which accompanied the Tamid.
- Interval for Prayers, etc. – At this point in the temple ritual, when all was ready for the sacrifice, the priests retired to the Hall of Polished Stone for prayers, which included the Ten Commandments and Shema. Amongst them was a “G’ullah,” which includes the following verses in the form still used among the Jews:
True and firm it is that thou art Jehovah: our God and the God of our fathers.
Thy Name is from everlasting; and there is no God beside thee.
A new song did they that were delivered: sing to thy Name by the sea shore.
Together did all praise and own thee as king: and say Jehovah shall reign who hath redeemed Israel.
We are not surprised, therefore, to find St. John introducing at this point the song of Moses the servant of God and of the Lamb. It is sung by the martyrs standing by the glassy sea in heaven, which now appears as if mingled with fire, a clear reference to the Red Sea of the Mosaic deliverance. St. John’s song is very like the temple ceremonial:
Great and wonderful are thy works; Jehovah God of hosts.
Just and true are thy ways; O king of the world.
Who shall not fear thee O Jehovah; and glorify thy Name? for thou only art holy.
For all the nations shall come and worship before thee: for thy righteous acts have been shown forth.
The “New Song” mentioned in the temple ritual is alluded to earlier in 14:3 by those who stand with the Lamb on Mount Sion; but this song is only known to those who sing it. The song at this point, however, serves to identify them as priests as well as victims.
A “New Song” has also been given to the twenty-four priestly elders who lead the Christian worship in chapter 5. This also follows the revelation of the Lamb of the Tamid as slain for sacrifice (5:9). “Worthy art thou to take the book . . . for thou wast slain for sacrifice and redeemed to God in thy blood, out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation, and hast made them a royal priesthood to God and they reign upon the earth.”
It is impossible to say how much of this psalmody is based on the temple ritual, or how much it has influenced Christian liturgiology. May not the “True and firm” have suggested the “Meet and right?”
A form of the True and Firm is still used in the Synagogue morning prayers.
- The Incense Offering. – The next section of the daily ritual of the temple was the offering of the incense at the golden altar inside the Naos. We have noted that St. John has placed this piece of ceremonial earlier; but that has enabled him to place something far more significant here.
Let us note first that he has arranged the ritual of the seven bowls exactly as he arranged the ritual of the seven trumpets. A comparison will suffice to show this:
The Trumpets. The Bowls.
The Trumpets given The Bowls ready
Incense offered The Song of Moses and the Lamb
The Trumpets sounded The Angels with Bowls appear
The Smoke of the Glory
The Bowls poured out
It will be noted that in the case of the bowls, to which we are now coming, the ritual is more elaborate, as the greater importance of the event warrants. They are, of course, the real answer to the prayers offered with the incense; the trumpets were warnings.
The point we have now reached was the most solemn in the daily ritual. The priest with the incense went in with four assistants, who placed everything in readiness and then withdrew; the priest in charge of the incense, who was now alone in the Naos, threw the incense on the coals, and the Naos was filled with smoke. Then came the solemn silence for intercession, the people and priests outside prostrating themselves. This was the moment for prayer and answer to prayer. St. Luke gives an account of it in the first chapter of his gospel.
In St. John we read that the Naos was filled with smoke from the Glory of God and his Power. As in the story of Solomon’s dedication, the “visible” Presence of God appears in the temple, the outward signs which corresponded to the pillar of smoke by day and the pillar of fire by night in the temple. The Glory and the Power are both words which mean nothing else in Rabbinic Hebrew but God himself in his glory and power. After the incense and the trumpets in chapter 8 we read that the Naos appeared in heaven with the ark which was the outward sign of God’s covenant; now the Naos is filled with the Shekinah.
Just as in the former case we saw some parallelism with the ceremonial of the Day of Atonement, so the same is to be found here: No one could enter into the Naos till the seven plagues of the seven angels were completed. On the Day of Atonement, once the high priest had entered the Naos, no one could enter it till he had finished his work.
But in St. John’s ceremonies there is still no sign of the high priest. All is entrusted to angels; and the splendour of his coming is delayed.
The Pouring of the Blood
We now come to another point in which St. John deserts the order of the Tamid, which has no pouring of blood at this point; it has been done at the beginning.
There are several reasons for this.
St. John is bound to have two pourings of blood, because he is using the symbolism of blood avenging; blood has been shed, and more blood must avenge it.
It was at this point on the Day of Atonement that the High Priest
came out, after cleansing the Naos and Holy of Holies, in order to smear blood upon the horns of the altar and cleanse that, following the custom in all sin-offerings.
The offering on the Day of Atonement was a special version of the sin-offering, a sin-offering for the High Priest and for the whole nation; in such cases it was directed that the carcass should be taken and burnt “outside the Camp” – that is to say, in historic times, “outside the City.” I have pointed out how our author and the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews have brought out the likeness between this custom and the crucifixion of our Lord “outside the city.”
In the sin-offering the whole of the remainder of the Blood was poured out at the foot of the altar; and this ceremony has provided the basis for what follows in Revelation. On the Day of Atonement the High Priest entered the Holy Place and sprinkled Blood Seven times towards the veil; he then came out with reconciliation and atonement for the people. Nothing of the sort occurs in Revelation, because there is no reconciliation. No High Priest appears. Only a “great voice” from within the Naos directs the seven angels to pour out their bowls, and the seven angels in “white stone” and golden girdles come out with a sevenfold libation to pour upon the land. It is to be presumed that in St. John’s thought the land that has been soaked in the blood of Jesus and his martyrs is one great altar of burnt-and blood-offerings.
It is a reversal of all values and expectations. There is no atonement, no reconciliation; what is to follow is rejection, retribution, and destruction.
The blood-avenging symbolism recurs throughout the seven bowls. Under the second the sea becomes like the blood of a corpse. Under the third the rivers become blood, and a versicle and response follow:
And I heard the voice of the Angel of the Waters saying,
Righteous art thou, who art and who wast, the Holy; for thou hast judged these things.
For the blood of saints and prophets they poured out; and blood thou hast given them to drink.
They are worthy.
And I heard the Altar saying,
Yea, Jehovah God of hosts: true and just are thy judgments.
I pointed out in the text of the book that the altar here signifies the martyrs, or their blood spilt on the land.
When the seventh is poured out on the air, a Great Voice came out of the Naos from the Throne, saying, IT IS DONE… and Babylon the great was remembered before God to give her the cup of the wine of the anger of his wrath. Here too the liturgical tone cannot be missed. “Remembered before God” is a devotional phrase; and we shall recur to the cup.
- The Offerings Burnt. – The next stage in the daily ritual was the burning of all the offerings except the drink-offering, which was poured out at the foot of the altar.
Babylon is priest as well as victim. Her fine linen is priestly. Her purple and gold and scarlet and blue are priestly. The fine linen recalls the stones of the temple gleaming white like snow. She is “gilded with gold,” like the temple. There was in front of the door of the Naos a “Babylonian tapestry in which blue, purple, scarlet and linen were mingled with such skill that one could not look on it without admiration,” as Josephus tells us.
The merchandise of 18:11, which critics say could never have come to a small town like Jerusalem, would all have been used in building and furnishing the temple; the merchandise of these things must have employed many ships. And note the irony at the end, horses and chariots and slaves, yes and the souls of men.
The conjunction of the desert and the scarlet in 17:3 suggests the scapegoat.
Her former lovers are to make her desolate and naked and eat her flesh, and burn her with fire, and the only excuse for this horrible symbolism is that it is drawn from the sin-offering.
A verse of masterly irony is found in 18:5: Her sin-offerings have mounted up to heaven, and God has remembered her unrighteousness. Hattah in Hebrew means both sin and sin-offering; not till the last word of the line, when we read unrighteousness, is the meaning of the first apparent: it means sins.
Babylon, falsely priestly, is herself the burnt-offering. It is another reversal of expectations. In fire shall she be burnt, When they see the Smoke of her burning; and finally when the shout of triumph goes up, Alleluia: for her Smoke goeth up forever and ever. She is turned into a continual burnt-offering. (Compare Lev. 6:13.)
Nor is that the end. One ceremony remains. The high priest’s cup of wine, the drink-offering, must be poured out. This too is not forgotten, but it is turned into a communion. To give her the cup of the wine of the anger of his wrath for she is drunk with the blood of the saints and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus. Repay to her as she repaid; and double and redouble according to her works. So ends the blood avenging. In her was found the blood of prophets and saints and all who were slain for sacrifice upon the land (18 and 19).
- The Psalms. – After the drink-offering was poured out, came the psalms; there was a “shout”; there were trumpets; there were prostration and silence; there was for the first time instrumental music. All this is reflected in the Alleluia chorus which goes up after the fall of Babylon. The detail of it need not detain us here, except that the Alleluias recall the last psalms of the book; and that each chorus begins with Alleluia, though in one case it has been translated into “Praise our God” (19:1-10).
- The Feast on the Sacrifice. – Sin-offerings were followed by the eating of part of the sacrifice by the priest. Two feasts follow the psalmody here, one for God’s friends, and one for his enemies. The first is the marriage feast of the lamb, with its obvious reference to the eucharist (19:9). The other is the invitation to the birds of heaven to feed on the flesh of those who fall in the wars of the messiah (19:17).
The Hebrew part of the book has two further liturgical points in it before it closes: (1) The Coming Out of the Great High Priest (19:11) in which the liturgical symbolism is already gone; he comes out of heaven, not out of the Naos. The Naos in heaven seems to vanish with the earthly temple. I have dealt with the symbolism of this passage; but it is worth noting again the fine linen, and the priestly garment splashed with blood. One fine point is the name written on the thigh; I have given an explanation in the text, which I think is the central one. But it is worth noting that priestly sacredness attached to the thigh; it was a part of the sin-offering that went to the priest. I have seen medieval Jewish drawings with a letter engraved on the thigh. But I do not know the explanation. (2) The New Naos (21:3). Here too the liturgical symbolism is gone, though the description of the new order which replaces the old Jerusalem is taken from Leviticus: “Behold the Tabernacle of God is with men, and he shall Tabernacle with them, and they shall be his peoples, and he (God with them) shall be their God.”
The word Tabernacle is used, but there is only a ghost of the old priestly symbolism. The new sanctuary is universal, human, catholic, not national or local. He goes on to describe it more fully in chapter 22; but that belongs to the later part of the book, that deals with Christian worship.
I have dealt fairly fully in this appendix with the liturgical background of the book, because it seems to have been neglected and yet to be all important. It sheds a great deal of light on the tone and motives of the book. It reinforces the view that Babylon is priestly Jerusalem. It may shed some light on the development of Christian worship, and even on the worship in the temple.
I cannot pretend to have done more than blaze a trail through a dense forest of obscurities; and what I have revealed, I do not profess to understand. Until we know what a Jew felt when he saw the blood being splashed on the altar, or the fire consuming the lamb of the Tamid, we can hardly expect to enter into the complexities of the liturgical poetry of St. John.
THE LITURGICAL STRUCTURE OF REVELATION
A. HEBREW SACRIFICE
|Revelation.||The Jerusalem Sacrifices.|
|1-3||Introductory.||The High Priest.|
|4||Christian Worship A. The Creator.||The Temple Ornaments.|
|5||Christian Worship B. The Lamb.||1. The lamb killed at dawn.|
|6||(The Four Horsemen.)
Souls Under Altar.
|Blood splashed on altar.|
|7||Christian Worship C. The Martyrs.||(Feast of Tabernacles.)|
|8||The Trumpets.||Three Trumpets.|
|Offering of Incense. This does not occur at this point in the daily ritual;
but it does on the Day of Atonement. See below. In the Temple ritual
the Silence follows the burning of the Incense.
|9||(The Trumpets, originally three, symbolise the prophetic message.)|
|11||(The Call of St. John, and his witness against Jerusalem.)|
|Opening of Sanctuary in Heaven.||Gates of Temple and Sanctuary opened.|
|12, 13||(The Great Interlude)|
|14||The Lamb and his Followers on Mount Sion.||2. Preparation of Sacrifice.
|First fruits. Without blemish.||Lamb skinned, cut up, washed, laid by altar.|
|The Harvest (Passover)||The meal offering. Bread.|
|The Vintage (Ingathering)||The drink offering. Wine.|
|15||Song of Moses and the Lamb.||Pause for prayer and praise.|
|The Sanctuary Opens.||3. Offering of Incense.|
|The Smoke of the Glory.||Silence.|
|No one may enter the Sanctuary.||Intercession.|
|St. John has placed the Incense symbolism earlier, though the smoke recalls it here. On the Day of Atonement no one might enter the sanctuary till the High Priest had finished his work there.|
|16||Pouring of the Blood.|
|The Seven Bowls. In the daily ritual this is done at the beginning; but on the Day of Atonement the High Priest smeared the mercy seat and altar with blood at this point.|
|17, 18||Babylon Burned.
|4. The Burning of the Victim.
The Cup poured out.
|17:16 refers to the ritual of the sin-offering;
17:2, 3 is reminiscent of the scapegoat.
|19||Alleluia Chorus.||5. The Psalms.
Song and Instruments.
|The Marriage Supper of the Lamb.
The High Priest out of Heaven
(cf. Ecclus. 50).
|The Great Supper of God.||6. The Feast on the Sacrifice.|
|20||(Wars of the Messiah and Judgments.)|
|21, 22||The Tabernacle of God with Men (cf. Lev. 26:11-12).
Christian Worship D. The Universal Worship of Mankind.
Note – This chart shows how the structure of the older part of Revelation follows the events of the daily sacrifice, with variations suggested by the ritual of the Day of Atonement.
THE LITURGICAL STRUCTURE OF REVELATION
- SCHEME FOR CHRISTIAN SACRIFICIAL WORSHIP
|A.||The Worship of the Creator.|
In spirit, in heaven.
|Lift up your hearts.|
|4-6||Throne, Elders, Lamps, and Living Creatures.||The “Preface”: With angels and archangels.|
|8||HOLY, HOLY, HOLY.||The Sanctus.|
|10||Rlders join in: Worthy art thou, etc.||Conception of communion with
It is meet and right.
|B.||The Worship of the Lamb.|
|5:6||The Lamb Sacrificed.||Recital of redeeming life and death.|
|8||Adoration of Lamb.|
- THE WORSHIP OF THE TRIUMPHANT SAINTS
This is a literary anticipation of the vision with which St. John closes his poem; it symbolises his faith that the martyrs are triumphant and do anticipate the bliss prepared for all.
|C.||The Martyrs in their Worship.
Note that they are not included under A and B.
|7:9||Robes and Psalms.|
|15||Worship him day and night in his
God shall “Tabernacle upon them.”
|Borrowed from ritual of the Feast
- THE IDEAL UNIVERSAL WORSHIP
St. John here sketches a worship free from the limitations of time and space or of a national religion and a hereditary priesthood. The symbolism of Jewish liturgical worship is deliberately excluded.
|D.||The Universal Worship of Mankind.|
|21:3||The Tabernacling with Men.||Not a temple made with hands.|
|10||The Glory of God.||His “visible” presence.|
|22||No sanctuary in it.||Not local.|
|23||Its Candlestick the Lamb.||Seven-branch candlestick.|
|24||The kings of the earth.||Royal sacrifices by gentile kings at Jerusalem.|
|25||No night.||Free of times and seasons.|
|22:4||Worship him: see his face.
Name on their forehead.
|Open universal presence.
High priests’ petalon: all are priests.
Note – In A and B St. John is consciously constructing a pattern for Christian worship, a pattern which was followed in every Eucharistic liturgy of the Catholic Church. It is based on Hebrew ritual, and no doubt reflects the custom of St. John’s own day.