The book of Revelation is not only intended to be heard within A liturgical gathering but actually has a liturgical structure. Other books of the Bible also have a liturgical Structure but the Book of Revelation has the most explicit liturgical structure and is more likely to be misinterpreted when the structure is missed by the hearer. Massey H. Shepherd has shown the correspondence between the Paschal liturgy and the book of Revelation. I don't think it's necessarily possible to determine whether the exact liturgical form came first or the book of Revelation came first, but the liturgy in its skeletal form seems to have already existed at the time that Revelation was written. Scott Hahn goes to far when he attempts to read the modern Roman mass into the Book of Revelation but that there is some form of liturgical structure is apparent to anyone who is familiar with the historic liturgy. Shepherd seems to be the most responsible and I'll be borrowing quite a bit from him in the rest of this blog post although he may not agree with everything I say. For the sake of not making this even longer than it's going to be, I will steal much from Shepherd and also deviate from Shepherd without calling attention to my expansions and differences. I highly recommend Shepherd's book but don't agree with all that he says.
Revelation 1:1 tells us that what we are about to hear is the revelation of Jesus Christ. The book of Revelation unveils what is actually take place in the liturgy and what is actually happening in the world around us. The Book of Revelation tells us that Christ himself is present in the Divine Service. He is the Lamb on the altar. In the Lamb's Supper we partake of Christ's body and blood and it is also an eschatological feast and foretaste of that which is to come. Although the Lamb appears defeated and appears to be losing ground, he is conquering through the liturgy. Revelation 1:3 gives blessing to the one who reads out loud and to the hearers. The book of Revelation assumes a liturgical context where there is a designated reader or lector and hearers. In 1:10 John says he was in the Spirit on the Lord's Day or Day of the Lord. There seems to be a quadruple entendre here. The Lord's Day/Day of the Lord was used by Christians in reference to the 1) day of the resurrection, 2) the yearly celebration of the resurrection (Pascha/Easter), 3) the weekly Sunday worship done in celebration of Christ's resurrection, and 4) the second coming of Christ. John's sermon takes on the form of the liturgy used for Easter Vigil/Pascha as we find in Hippolytus and other writers. Shepherd lays out the correlation between Revelation and the Pashal Liturgy as follows:
|The Scrutinies||The Seven Letters||1-3|
|The Vigil||The Assembly Before the Throne of God||4-5
|(a) The Lessons||The Seals, I-VI||6|
|The Initiation||The Pause: Sealing of the White-Robed Martyrs||7|
|The Synaxis||The Seventh Seal||8|
|(a) The Prayers||The censing|
|(b) The Law (Exodus)||The Trumpets, I-VI
= The Woes, I-II
|(c) The Prophets||The Pause: The Little Scroll; the Two Witnesses||10-11|
|(d) The Gospel||The Seventh Trumpet = The Third Woe: The Struggle of Christ and Antichrist||12-15|
|The Vials, I-VII||16-18|
|(e) The Psalmody||The Hallelujah||19|
|The Eucharist||The Marriage Supper of the Lamb||19|
The Scrutinies/The Seven Letters (1-3)Easter is a traditional time for baptism and the the Scrutinies were delivered to baptismal candidates. They had been catechized and screened for heresy. There was also the danger that someone might attempt to join the church to persecute it and so baptismal candidates were screened. The baptismal candidates were brought together for prayer, imposition of hands, and exorcism. The letters to the seven churches in the book of Revelation appear to be structured based on these scrutinies and are written to prepare the churches for the "baptism by fire" on the coming Day of the Lord as well as the baptism of blood that they experience in persecution. The half-hearted and negligent are warned. Every root of Judaism, paganism, and heresy is placed under judgment of condemnation. The promises given to the seven churches are both sacramental and eschatological. The seven letters find their place in the pre-baptismal section that comes before the actual Paschal liturgy and are prepartory.
Ephesus is warned but also promised the tree of life in the paradise of God. Smyrna is warned about coming persecution but if they remain steadfast they will receive the crown of life and they will not be harmed by the second death.
Pergamum is promised the hidden manna and a white stone with a new name written on it which no man knows except he who receives it. The manna is consistent with the references to Exodus found in both Revelation and the Paschal liturgy and refers to the Lord's Supper. The white stone according to Hippolytus is associated with baptism. The fact that nobody knows the name probably refers back to YHWH. In baptism the Triune name is placed upon us by Christ. The name in this case probably has reference to both the name "YHWH" and "Jesus" and points to the mystery that Jesus is YHWH.
Thyatira is promised power over the nations and the morning Star.
Sardis is promised white garments and Christ will confess his name before His Father and before the angels. The tradition of clothing the baptized in white garments dates back to the time of the Apostles. We are clothed in the righteousness of Christ in baptism.
Philadelphia is promised an open door. For a full explanation of the open door motif I highly recommend Charles Gieschen's article. But I will summarize. The open door is access to the heavenly sanctuary. We are given that access in the liturgy where we partake of the eschatological wedding feast ahead of time. We worship with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven. The rest of the book of Revelation further explains what this means and the door motif will repeat throughout the book. The door to the synagogue had been closed to these Christians but they have been given access to a much greater door. Not only this, they are promised they will be made pillars in the temple of God.
Laodicea is given several warnings but here we find the door motif again using imagery from Song of Songs 5:2. This passage is often misapplied as some sort of evangelism tool where Jesus stands at the door of the heart and knocks waiting for you to let him into your heart. However, Jesus is standing at the door of the church and inviting them into the Divine Presence. Just two verses later we find the door of heaven and the voice of the Spirit calls John into the Divine presence. If the door opened Christ will sup with them which is pretty clearly a reference both to the Lord's Supper and the eschatological wedding supper of the Lamb at the conclusion of the book of Revelation.
The Vigil/The Assembly Before the Throne of God (4-5)
This is the beginning of the Paschal Liturgy/Easter Vigil. During the vigil, the Exodus narrative was read which is very prominent throughout Revelation. Christ the Lamb is the central figure. The scene is in heaven but reflects the Christian view that the worship of the earthly church is at one with the worship of the hosts of heaven. The scene in Revelation is very liturgical with a bishop, presbyters, and deacons depicted. And we find a sealed scroll which represents the Old Testament Torah. The scroll can only be unsealed by the Lamb. The Old Testament can only be understood when it is understood that they are all about Christ. We also find various liturgical anthems in this section that may find their origin in the Paschal liturgy of that period.
(a)The Lessons/The Seals I-VI (6)
Now the Lamb opens the seals. These six seals correspond to what is found in Mark 13. The Lessons in the Paschal liturgy contained the reading and interpretation of apocalyptic and prophetic material including non-canonical texts. This material being interpreted with reference to the Lamb is seen as the key to understanding the Old Testament.
The Initiation/The Sealing of the White-Robed Martyrs (7)
There is a pause that follows the breaking of the sixth seal and the servants of God are sealed upon their foreheads. This is the time of baptism in the Paschal liturgy but John uses it in reference to the baptism of blood experienced by the martyrs. In John's theology water and blood go together. They are sealed with the Divine name. The renunciation of Satan, profession of faith, the washing, the sealing with the Name, and the giving of the white garments all correspond to the ancient baptismal rite. It is also possible that the sealing has reference to chrismation and the laying on of hands in which the newly baptized were anointed with oil.
The Synaxis /The Seventh Seal (8)
(a) The Prayers/The Censing
There is now a half hour of silence that most likely refers to the silent prayers of the faithful as they conclude the Vigil and await the return of the newly baptized into the assembly. The prayers are equated with incense. It does not seem that incense was actually used at this time but that the book of Revelation led to the later incorporation of incense. The breaking of the Seventh seal does not result in turmoil but silence. There is a kind of Sabbath rest that marks a conclusion to the old order of the seven-fold week and suggests a new order that begins with the trumpets.
(b) The Law (Exodus)/The Trumpets, I-VI=The Woes, I-II (8-9)
Six trumpets are blown and two woes are pronounced based on the six plagues in Exodus. The last two are the first and second woe. This corresponds to the reading of the Law during the Paschal liturgy--particularly the book of Exodus.
(c) The Prophets/The Pause: The Little Scroll; the Two Witnesses (10-11)
Next in the Paschal liturgy we find the reading of the Prophets. The Little Scroll and the reaction of John brings to mind the OT prophets. The Two Witnesses are Moses and Elijah and stand as type-figures for the Law and Prophets that lead to Christ. The Paschal liturgy most likely included readings from Daniel 7 as well as other prophets. Included also in this would be Exodus 15--the Song of Moses.
(d) The Gospel/The Seventh Trumpet = The Third Woe: The Struggle of Christ and Antichrist, The Vials, I-VII (11-18)
In 11:15-19 the seventh trumpet is blown and we find a liturgical anthem based upon Psalm 2 and a prominent Psalm in the ancient Christian church that prophecies of the passion and resurrection of Christ. The early church understood all the Psalms to be about Christ since Christ said that all the Scriptures are about him. Heaven is opened which leads us into the Gospel lesson. The "Gospel lesson" should not be interpreted too narrowly. In the paschal liturgy at the end of the first century the "Gospel lesson" could have possibly been a reading from one of the Gospels or one of the Epistles. In this section we read about the persecution of the Woman by the Dragon. It's difficult to read this without thinking of Mary and I believe it's right to do so but she stands as the representative in this section of the church as a whole. The section ends with the Gospel proclamation of the triumph of Christ over Antichrist and the final judgment.
(e) The Psalmody/The Hallelujah(19)
Next, we have the Psalmody as indicated by the references to Psalm 113 and following. These were commonly sung at major Jewish feasts and within the context of the Paschal liturgy invite us to the Eucharist.
The Eucharist/The Marriage Supper of the Lamb, The Consummation (19-22)
The Paschal liturgy then ended with the Eucharist in which Christ gives us his body and blood--the great wedding feast of the Lamb. It is the consummation of the age to come. It is the end of time ahead of time in which we are saved from sin, death, and devil and enter into intimate communion with Christ.
This is a very brief overview and does not even attempt to address all the interpretive issues in the book of Revelation. It is simply an attempt to create the proper framework for understanding the book of Revelation. I believe many of the symbols are purposefully ambiguous. Every detail is not intended to apply to a very specific event. It is intended to be heard as a whole within the liturgical assembly and not dissected in a lab. The 1000 year reign is to be experienced as a participant within the liturgical gathering and not to be placed with some kind of start and end date on a calendar. The number 666 may have reference to Nero but only Nero as representative. It is not so much the number of a man but the number of man. It is man who has not been washed in the waters of baptism. Revelation reveals to us what is going on in worship and what is going on in the world around us. The Lamb is conquering and we partake of the eschatological feast!