The Rainbow Promise
The Book of Revelation has intrigued, frightened, and confused people down through the centuries. The Rainbow Promise is a fresh approach to this ancient book that brings a harmony to the ancient symbols and the modern, new age insights and language. When approached in this manner, Revelation becomes a book describing the process of Human Transformation preparing for a better future. Written long before Freud ever used the word 'ego' or Jung ever spoke of a 'collective unconscious,' Revelation is a holistic symbolic psychology of the body, mind and spirit.
When viewed in the traditional sense, the literal imagery in Revelation obscures the spiritual message. All the imagery may be viewed as symbols representing other events, whether those events are historical and external, or personal and internal. When approached from the spiritual side, Revelation describes the internal events within both our bodies and minds, and does not invoke fear, but rather hope. The Rainbow Promise examines the symbolism in Revelation without attempting to apply this symbolism to external events in history. Instead, it takes the symbols and puts them together into a coherent psychology describing what happens when the mind, the body and the spirit work together to transform the human being into the next stage of our development.
A TIME OF CHANGE
The events of recent history, from the spiritual movements of the so-called "New Age," to the unexplained changes in DNA, to the growth in consciousness of so many individuals -- all of these are the precursors of a change within humanity. Even the congruency of prophecies from so many cultures pointing to "something" happening that will be important, are signs that must not be overlooked. What will that "something" be, and when will it occur? It is occurring now, in the present moment of our lives. We do not know the details of the outcome, for the details have not yet been decided. What we do know is that we are, as some say, at an "Omega Point." -- the ending of one stage in history and the beginning of a new stage. We are Omega becoming Alpha.
No matter the details of the change in progress, we have, in Revelation, a description of the change when it happened to one individual almost 2000 years ago. Many will argue that the one individual, Jesus of Nazareth, was, and is, a unique individual. And their arguments are true in that Jesus is unique. Yet his uniqueness lies in the fact that he is the "first fruit" of a harvest that includes all of us. He is the one who ventured out in faith and then urges us to follow him. And he did not leave us without guidance. We have, as he tells us in the Gospel of John, a "comforter, the Holy Spirit." The book of Revelation describes the process of opening up to this Holy Spirit.
The Rainbow Promise unlocks the understanding of Revelation so that we may discover this process at work in our own lives. It allows us to reflect upon our own experiences in light of the symbolic language, and to judge our own progress toward transformation.
To get an idea of what The Rainbow Promise provides, below is the complete Introduction section of the book. You may also download a PDF form of two pages of text from chapter 13, showing you the treatment of symbolism within Revelation. Enjoy!
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
When my teenage son learned that I was writing this book, at that time a still untitled commentary on Revelation, he suggested, “Dad! I know what you can call it! ‘Revelation Revealed!’ “ Although an intriguing title, I was acutely aware of the lack of factual information concerning Revelation. Mystery permeates everything about this book.
I remember studying the book of Revelation in the small rural church in which I first served while a ministerial student. On the first night of our Bible study, with the participants gathered around two small tables in the basement of the church, we began the adventure of digging into this last book of the New Testament. After only ten minutes of reading and discussion, one young lady stood up and, with her face flushed and eyes wide with fright, she quickly ran up the stairs saying in a trembling voice, “I can’t read that! It scares me too much!”
Even though the images in Revelation can be frightening, they can also instill hope and faith within our lives, according to the attitude we take toward them. As a way of analogy, many people are frightened of the Great Unknown that we call death. Although not desiring death, others have a faith that welcome it and are not frightened by it when it does come their way. As we journey together into understanding the symbolism and meaning behind the words of Revelation, let us bring an attitude of anticipation that can sustain our present faith as Revelation is revealed to us!
Who is the Author?
Scholars are not certain who wrote the book of Revelation. There is a long tradition that John, the beloved disciple, is the author of this book.3 For example, the Muratorian fragment (170 A. D.) ascribes it to St. John. Even earlier (ca. 135 A. D.), Justin Martyr believed him to be the author. A group known as the Alogi (ca. A D. 170) indirectly testified to the apostolic authenticity of this book when they denied that John was the author. (By denying that they believed John to be the author, they were, in effect, testifying to the tradition established at that time that John was, in fact, the author of Revelation. If such a tradition had not existed, the Alogi would not have spoken out against him being the author!). The Alogi were a group that disagreed with much of the doctrine they found in the other writings of John, mainly the Gospel of John.
Yet, even with this testimony, John’s authorship is not certain. As early as the third century, Dionysius of Alexandria pointed out differences of language, style, and grammar between Revelation and the Gospel of John. He also noted that tradition told of two monuments to John in Ephesus. Dionysius believed that there were two Johns: one who wrote the Gospel, and another who wrote Revelation.4 Even though the author claims to be named John, he does not also claim to be the Apostle John. Therefore the question of authorship remains unanswered.
The date of its composition is also unknown – estimates range from before the destruction of the temple in 70 A. D. to as late as 120 A. D.
The Bare Bones
We may feel lost or bewildered upon reading Revelation. There are plagues, trumpets, seals, signs, vials, visions, woes, angels. How does it all fit together? How can any sense be made of this book?
When trying to understand some complex entity, it always helps to first view it in an outline or skeleton form. After that, muscles, tendons, organs, skin, etc., may be added layer upon layer to enhance and show detail. Let us first examine Revelation in a broad, skeletal form (as a descriptive outline):
A Skeletal Outline of Revelation
Revelation begins with a Prologue containing both an introduction and a greeting. The Prologue identifies the recipients of the book and explains both its origin and reason for its existence.
From this Prologue, Revelation begins with the first vision of instructions or admonitions directed to the book’s intended recipients, the seven churches in Asia. Each church receives specific instructions from Christ as to where its strengths and weaknesses lie and what they can do about each.
Then, Revelation describes the second vision of the author. This vision takes place in heaven and comprises the middle portion of the book. It is in this section that most people become confused, for the layers of plagues, trumpets, vials, scrolls, etc., peel away one after another in a seemingly endless cycle. First, there is the opening of the seven seals. The seventh seal, when opened, reveals the sounding of seven trumpets. The seventh trumpet, when sounded, reveals the three signs. The third sign, in its turn, reveals the seven plagues in a still deeper layer. If these different layers were not enough, there are interludes which intervene throughout the book. All of these layers and interludes add to the complexity of the book and make it more difficult to understand.
The fourth major section of Revelation, the third vision, describes Babylon and its destiny. With its graphic descriptions of destruction, this section strikes fear in many people.
The fourth vision is that of the New Jerusalem, the final goal of all Christians. Its description has added much to our own visions of heaven.
Finally, in the conclusion, the author is instructed to share these visions with others, so that they may benefit from them.
Throughout this book we will be using a more detailed outline, which is found in Appendix A.
Beyond The Facts
The author of Revelation, the date when it was written – even the divisions of the outline – can all be topics of debate and argument. They are tangible facts, even though the details concerning them are debatable.
For the book of Revelation to make sense, it must go beyond the tangible, physical world to encompass the unseen, nonphysical realm. The book itself speaks of such an unseen realm (1:10; 4:2, etc.), and its content is mainly about the visions that happen in this realm. Anyone reading Revelation needs first to assume the reality of an unseen, nonphysical world in which the events of the book take place. The author of Revelation often calls this nonphysical world “heaven” (4:2; 8:1, 13; etc.). If it is assumed that such a nonphysical, spiritual realm exists, and if we admit that the physical realm in which we live also exists,5 then the next assumption we must make is that there is some kind of connection between the two. If we neglect or deny the connection, then the parts of Revelation which take place in heaven become fascinating reading but have no relevance to our lives in the physical realm. The unspoken assumption made throughout Revelation is that the events in the spiritual realm are a foretelling of the events that will occur in the physical realm. The “visions” coming from the spiritual world are the reality that the physical realm reflects. 6 To illustrate this, consider the following example:
If you are expecting company for dinner, your first thought (after cleaning the house!) concerns what you will serve. You go through the recipes you have and you choose a main dish. Then you decide what will go well with that main dish. All of this is done in your mind. You then imagine what the meal will look like, how the table is to be set, what ingredients you need, and so on. Now, the dinner may or may not proceed as you imagine it. You may overcook the meat, the baked beans may not cook at all, and the cake may fall when you remove it from the oven, or you may spill the drink all over the tablecloth. But the point to notice here is that the dinner first took place in the nonphysical realm of your mind. From there, the physical dinner came into existence. How closely the physical dinner resembles the mental dinner in your mind depends upon many factors – your skills in preparing it, the availability of the food, the promptness of the guests, etc. Yet the resemblance (or lack thereof) between the spiritual ideal dinner and the physical dinner does not have any bearing on the reality of either the spiritual or the physical. They both existed in their own manner, and there was a connection between the two.
For the book of Revelation to have meaning for you, there must be some connection between the spiritual realm of which it speaks and the physical realm in which you live everyday. It is that connection to which we now turn our attention.
Life’s Journey – A Revelation
Although some scholars argue that Revelation is a prophetic writing – and the author of Revelation calls it “prophecy” (1:3) – the book of Revelation is most often called an apocalyptic writing. The term apocalypse, which is translated “Revelation” in the title of the book, refers to the belief that the present world is so overcome with evil that the only way it will change is through the direct intervention of God. 7 This is in contrast to prophetic writing, which, in essence, says that we have the power to change our evil ways if we wish to prevent the wrath of God descending upon us. Apocalyptic writing uses symbolism and imagery to explain and describe its message. This imagery is usually in black or white terms, without much gray area between the two extremes.
Apocalyptic writing is also concerned with the “end times” (or “eschatology”). It is at this point that we moderns – especially of the Western world – become confused. Our view of history is linear. That is, we see history as starting at one time, long ago, and continuing to move forward into the future. History only travels in one direction – forward. For the ancient peoples, history was seen rather as a series of cycles or ages. Periodically, there would be the end of one age and the beginning of another.8 In apocalyptic writing, the “end” is “… usually the end of a present age or period of persecution and the beginning of a new age in which the persecution has been removed.”9 We might also add that the end of one age and the beginning of another brings with it a new consciousness and way of looking at life and the world.
If Revelation is viewed in this sense, then we begin to understand that the main topic is not concerned with the end of the world, but it is rather concerned with the theme of relationships: (1) The relationship between good and evil (i.e., God’s judgment upon evil) as well as (2) God’s relationship with his people who remain faithful. This theme of relationship is explained through the imagery and symbolism of apocalypse in order to emphasize its importance. The relationship that you have with God is seen as the most important issue of your life. God has, in the person of Jesus, directly intervened into your life, and without this intervention, we would not be able to overcome the evil of our situation. Therefore, through God’s actions, we are empowered to act for Him.
It is in this light which Revelation must be understood: It is a book, not necessarily of the chronological predictions of history, but rather, it is a book which describes the struggles, battles, and victories of individuals who desire to develop a closer relationship with God. Revelation is the story of your struggles – of my struggles – and, ultimately, of our victory through faith as we enter the New Jerusalem where our lives are totally dedicated to doing the will of God. This is the connection between the unseen, spiritual world of Revelation and the visible, physical world in which we live: the faith connection. Our faith defines our relationship with God and with one another.
This commentary examines Revelation as a book to help the believer develop his or her own soul. The author, if it was John of Patmos, was at least 80 years old. He had known Jesus, had been loved by Jesus, and had heard the “inner circle” instructions given by Jesus. He had also known the teachings of the resurrected Jesus. John was a mystic and spent decades – his whole adult life – in prayer and meditation. The book of Revelation has been called the “Third book of the Cabbalah (or Qabbalah),” 10 and it contains mystical imagery (see Appendix B). The Cabbalah, ancient secret teachings of the Jewish people, is concerned with the hidden, inner life of the believer and how that inner nature can determine the action of our outer, physical life. Thus John’s writings reflect this emphasis upon the inner nature of someone attempting to become like Christ. Revelation is a story of the inner journey of Jesus as he was becoming the Christ as well as a map describing, for those of us who would follow in His footsteps, exactly what to expect on our own journey.
It is also at this point that the “Parousia” or “Second Coming” of Christ connects with our lives. The importance of the Second Coming is not the end of the world, although most people do confuse these two issues. The purpose of Christ’s appearance is the judgment upon our relationship with God and the subsequent actions that relationship generates within our lives. In this sense, our lives and our faith are the judgment against us or for us. The whole book of Revelation, in dealing with the daily development of our faith, is thus totally concerned with the Parousia. The “end time” is now, when we come to the end of one “era” of our lives and begin the new era as a people totally committed to God.
In The Very Beginning
In the beginning ... in the Very Beginning,
before the advent of Man;
Before the Morning Stars sang together,
when Harmony was All,
The One expressed Itself:
And Thought began ...
Although much of the interpretation of Revelation is based upon Old Testament apocalyptic writings, they fail to address the question of “Why is there a need for Revelation?” To discover the answer to this most important question, we must turn to the Biblical book of Genesis and study its story anew.
The first chapter of Genesis expresses the true story of our origins. In the following pages, I hope to unravel a story that will give substance and significance to those opening words. The interpretation for these verses come from such diverse sources as modern commentaries of scripture, ancient secret teachings, deductions from logical thought, and simply asking questions. As we will discover, the pathway by which we receive Truth is not for us to critique: The Source of all Truth is still the same!
According to some traditions, God created the universe “ex nihilo” – out of nothing. As we are not capable of imagining nothingness, it is impossible for us to imagine the universe before creation. If we can imagine it, then it must be something. Some of the Eastern religions express God in this sense: the void; the absolute potential; the calmness of emptiness. Even scientists, when describing the early moments of the “ Big Bang,” admit that there is a limit to how far back they can go in describing what happened, because it is not capable of being explained. And yet that is how God was before the beginning – the Mind of God consisted of pure potential: Nothing yet had been created. The Cabbalah says that the only way to understand God is to first imagine all that exists, and then eliminate everything: What remains is God. In other words, God is not capable of being described. To assist them in understanding this concept, they used the image of a circle. God, although unbounded, is like the circumference of the circle, encompassing everything, and yet there is a oneness of all that exists. Then, God, realizing Himself, withdrew into a dot within the circle. The dot represents the actualization of the potential. God is simultaneously both the circumference and the dot of the circle (see figure 1).
Figure 1: The outermost circle symbolizes the totality of God. The next thick line represents the active, knowable God (the original “dot” mentioned in the text). The innermost dot symbolizes Humanity, which is totally contained within the essence of God, but does not partake of all of God’s creation. The circles within each of the dark bands represent different parts of God’s creation, which partake of more and more of His essence as the circles go outward from the center.
Genesis expresses this thought where it says of the earth that it was without form and void (1:2). At this point all was potential and had not been manifested. Then God, the first Cause, moves and says, “Let there be light.” This light is then separated from the darkness. Notice that this “light” is not the sun, moon, or stars (which were created on the fourth day). This is the first indication that these opening verses of the Bible are about more than just the physical creation. If this light is not that of the sun, the moon, or the stars, then what could it be? This light was not physical light, but rather the light of awareness, the light of consciousness – of what can be known. It was separated from the darkness (or what is subconscious, unknowable). The darkness is not evil. The distinction between the light and the dark simply signifies the difference between potential and actuality. Therefore, in the first “day,” God created actuality out of the pure potential which is Himself.
Returning to the thought of the Cabbalists, the “dot” is the same as the “light” of the first day as described in the Bible. The Cabbalah then adds a series of ever smaller concentric circles within the “dot” as an explanation of the different stages of creation. Each circle is contained within the totality of God, but each circle, being smaller than those outside of it, encompasses less and less of God’s totality. Finally, in the center is a smaller dot which represents humankind. Each circle represents a different phase of creation, with the extreme inner circles representing the physical creation and the outer ones representing the nonphysical or spiritual creation.
The understanding of the Cabbalists that the spiritual orders of creation came first, with the physical being the last to be manifested, is expressed in the Bible through the two stories of the creation of Man: One in the first chapter of Genesis, and the other in the second chapter. The first chapter describes the creation in the Mind of God, where humankind (adam or ’adham11) is created in the spiritual realm, but not the physical realm. The “idea” of humanity as companion to God was first formed in the Creator’s mind. Although difficult for us 21st century, scientific, and materially oriented individuals to grasp, an “idea” in God’s mind has more reality than any physical object that we can perceive with our five senses. Therefore, from the moment when God “thought” of humanity, humanity existed. It is this manner of existence that is important for our purposes, and a closer examination of the Scriptures might bring a few surprises.
First of all, as we read these first chapters of Genesis, we notice that the name for God changes as we progress further into the creation story. It begins by using the Hebrew term “ Elohim” for God. One of the strongest tenants of the Hebrew faith was their monotheism: “Hear, O Israel, the Lord, thy God is One!” Yet the term “ Elohim” is plural. In English translation, this term, is often rendered simply “God.” In verses 26 and 27 of Chapter 1, we read the following as God is preparing to create humankind:
Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness … So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” (Italics added.)
Why is there so obvious a departure from the concept of the One God in these opening verses? Why does Christian theology gloss over such inconsistencies?
God is all: He/She/It encompasses everything. I use the expression “He/She/It” to refer to God not out of disrespect, but from the lack of an adequate pronoun in the English language to express the totally encompassing nature of God. God contains both masculine and female characteristics and much more. God is a plurality within a singularity; this is exactly what the diagram of concentric circles by the Cabbalists represents.
The second importance of the verse quoted above concerns the actual creation of humankind: We were created in the image of God: “He created them male and female.” As first created, we were like God: spiritual beings encompassing both the masculine and feminine characteristics; spiritual beings that were separate from, but one with God; spiritual beings who, by being like God, could be true companions with Him. This is our true nature – one which we have forgotten and from which we have fallen. The glory of God was once ours! What happened to us that we lost all of this? The remaining creation story gives us the answer to this question.
A Little Later ...
In an instant, in the Bigger Bang,
I emerged within One Thought.
Many were I, though One together,
And it was His Song I sang!
Children of the One –
I looked ... and then I moved.
When everything was first created, it was “good.” As humankind, the spiritual beings created in God’s image, we possessed individual consciousness and were free to learn and to act on our own. Our actions corresponded with God’s, and we were happy to simply observe the Mind of God. Unfortunately, our freedom of will and expression soon added new dimensions to God’s creation. Since each of these “human beings” was Spirit (where Spirit “is the essence of life” 12) and each possessed an individual mind (but, as yet, did not have any physical form), each spiritual human entity was capable of thoughts or ideas different from its neighbor. Just like the ideas of God, these ideas of God’s companions were given reality simply by being “thought.” And as each spiritual entity experienced its own series of thoughts, it became more unique and individualized. That portion of each entity which was its memories and record of experiences – that which made it unique – was the entity’s soul.
God’s desire was that we each develop our soul through our unique thoughts and experiences and then return to Him to join together in our Oneness, yet knowing ourselves to be separate from Him. The only problem was that, in order to allow us enough freedom to become creatively unique, God had to allow us the freedom to think and to do that which we were never meant to do: to become totally separated from Him in consciousness. This possibility always existed, and we, through our desire to express ourselves, have emphasized the self or “separateness” of our existence. By emphasizing the knowledge that we are separate from God, and de-emphasizing our oneness with God, we have gradually forgotten our original estate: companions with God.
The Hebrew language in those first couple of chapters of Genesis betrayed this slipping away of our consciousness of being one with God by the terms used for God. When first created, God was “Elohim,” or as is most often translated in English, “God.” This is the term used throughout the first chapter of Genesis when the entire universe was created in the Mind of God. Everything was in harmony with God at that time. Then, God’s special creation – the spiritual humans with their separate, individual consciousnesses – began to play with creation and to have new experiences. Some of these experiences brought them into contact with the three dimensional world of the physical.
According to various readings from the well documented psychic, Edgar Cayce, these spiritual entities began to choose certain portions of themselves to manifest to others, so that their differences would be apparent, rather than their oneness. The spiritual human became “associated” with the physical creation. The spiritual consciousness, however, was not designed to work in the three-dimensional plane of experience. As a result, we began to believe that we were physical creatures and forgot our spiritual nature of being one with God.
Even the Bible, when it talks of the physical creation in Chapter two of Genesis, uses a different term for God: Yahweh-Elohim. This term is usually translated “Lord God,” signifying a descent in our consciousness to being separated from God. No longer are God and His created on the same level of consciousness. Now God is viewed as outside and different: He is higher than the physical plane and thus is called “Lord God.” In the story of the creation of the physical humankind, which begins at this point in Genesis, the earth does not have any vegetation, nor does the physical human being yet exist: Physical humanity and the world are yet “ideas” within God’s mind. At this time, the physical adham, humanity, was formed out of the dust of the earth, and the Lord God “breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul” ( Genesis 2:7).
The “breath of life,” the soul, now inhabits the physical body: The record of that entity’s experiences – the uniqueness of that individual – now resides within the flesh. Because the soul, a multidimensional creation, is now encased in the three dimensional physical world, its consciousness of the originally spiritual human is severely limited. In fact, a new consciousness, better suited for the three dimensional existence, was created. A portion of the spiritual humanity’s mind remained in awareness, but most of the consciousness was set back and became the “subconscious mind.” This division of consciousness into the conscious mind and the subconscious mind is the same type of movement made by God when He separated the light from the darkness on that first day. The subconscious mind of the physical human is that which is unknown or unknowable, while the conscious mind is that which is knowable. There is nothing evil about the subconscious, although we often depict it as full of monsters and evil creatures. This depiction has many similarities to the images within Revelation, as we shall see later. It was also this subconscious mind which retained the ability to directly communicate with God. Because the conscious mind was removed one step from God, Scriptures record humanity as now calling God, “Lord God,” recognizing this distance in the relationship between God and Man.
When One Becomes Two ...
Barely turning, ever so slowly,
I slip from where I stand.
Life is full: Ever exciting!
Yet sleep is what I crave!
The sleep of One ...
and then of two ...
we sleep until this day.
At the time of the creation of physical humanity, when the Lord God created Adam and breathed His Spirit into the physical clay, the scriptures state that “man became a living soul” (2:7). Since the soul – that which makes each spiritual human unique – was in the image of God and contained both masculine and feminine qualities, then Adam at this stage was both male and female – a wholeness within himself.
God, knowing both wholeness and aloneness, then decided to create a help-meet or companion for Adam (2:18). God put Adam into a “deep sleep” and removed a “rib” from his side and created woman. The Hebrew term for “rib” (tsal’ah) is better translated as “side.” In other words, God took one side of the androgynous Adam – the feminine side – and separated it from him to create the complementary part of humanity: the woman. Now at this point in creation, the man was physically male, and the woman was physically female (where the Hebrew term for male means “to mark so as to be distinguished” and the Hebrew term for female means “to puncture”). This is not to say that each of them was incomplete. On the contrary, they were still complete or whole within themselves, but the awareness of one side of their wholeness was placed into the subconscious mind and the awareness of the other side was placed into the conscious mind. In addition, the physical body now manifested the conscious sexuality and not the subconscious. Yet, for the male, the feminine counterpart is still there, in his subconscious, while the masculine side of the female is in her subconscious.
This separation of human sexuality into the subconscious and conscious is symbolized by God placing man into a “deep sleep.” The Hebrew at this point implies that man entered a trancelike condition characterized by being slack or languid. The ancient Eastern people would have seen in this phrase a reference to deep meditation where the consciousness is capable of being altered or shifted. It was at this level that humanity became male or female, depending upon which set of characteristics was to be emphasized in the conscious mind and which set would be relegated to the subconscious. It is also at this level that the physical form is determined: The driving force behind whether the union of an egg and sperm will become a male or female is the decision by the unified, nonphysical mind of the soul as to whether or not it desires to emphasize one side or the other. The process described in Genesis of the human soul becoming languid while a separation is made between the two sexual manifestations of the soul occurs each time a baby is conceived. Notice that nowhere in scripture does it ever state that God awakened man from this “deep sleep”! Thus the soul goes into this altered condition – or the deep sleep – during the process of physical conception. It is also while in this deep sleep that the Bible records “the fall” of humanity.
Me, Myself and I
In dreams we see our visions ...
In sleep we see our Truth.
Our life slithers from our grasps,
‘till One doth come, forsooth!
Before considering Chapter three of Genesis and “the fall” of humanity, it should be emphasized that at this point of physical creation, humanity has already “fallen” from the awareness of being one with God, and that the consciousness was first split into two parts: the subconscious, which retains the direct awareness of God and who we truly are as spiritual beings, and the conscious, which contains the wholeness of who we are as androgynous physical humans. But then the conscious part was split into two parts also. One part was made subconscious or unmanifested, and the other became conscious or manifested in the physical. This process tended to push the original subconscious mind even further into the background until it became the “superconscious.”13 The significance of this movement will become clear later in this section.
According to Genesis, it was the serpent that very craftily convinced the woman to eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. We in the West have associated the serpent with Satan, the devil, the lord of evil and destruction. Yet the ancient peoples looked upon the serpent as a symbol of knowledge and immortality. As the symbol of knowledge, it “tempts man to the knowledge of himself.”14 This is exactly the serpent’s role in the Biblical story of creation: After the woman and the man eat of the forbidden fruit, they realized that “they were naked” (Genesis 3:7). After eating the fruit, then came knowledge about their own condition. They were now physical creatures – or that is what they believed. By eating of this fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil (which, as its name implies, is concerned with polarities such as good/evil and spirit/flesh), the man and woman became aware of themselves as not only separate from God, but as different from Him: Now they thought they were flesh instead of spirit; now they experienced death which was common to all physical creatures. Not only did they become aware of their flesh bodies, but they also began to believe they were the flesh bodies instead of being the spiritual entities who had once been companions with God. The original and continual sin of humanity has been our choice to consider self more than God. We have come to believe that we are tiny creatures of dust living on a small, insignificant planet. We were so concerned with experiencing ourselves, that we forgot about our relationship to God.
Just as the serpent of self caused our downfall, it is also the symbol of our salvation. When the Hebrew people were wandering in the wilderness and began to complain about the difficulties they faced, poisonous snakes began to bite them and many of them died. Moses then made a bronze snake, placed it upon a tall pole and told the people that if anyone is bitten, he should look at the bronze serpent on the pole, and that person would live (Numbers 21:4-9). Jesus referred to this Old Testament story when He remarked, “ Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert. It is the same with the Son of Man. The Son of Man must be lifted up too. Then everyone who believes in him can have eternal life” (John 3:14-15). Lifting up the self to be crucified is the way to salvation, for it is the self or selfishness that has caused the fall of humankind.
By emphasizing the self, both man and woman descended even further from the consciousness of being one with God. We had fallen so far that we actually forgot that we were supposed to be companions with God. We believed ourselves to be simply physical beings living on a physical world in a physical universe. God could not allow us to become immortal physical creatures, because then we would never remember who we were and could never return to God to be His companions; therefore, we were not allowed to eat of the “tree of life.” We had left the garden of a direct relationship with God and had entered a world of our own making, where we could only survive through hard work. Even the Biblical term of God, Jehovah, or simply Lord, in Chapter 4 of Genesis, reflects this further descent away from unity and into self.
Revelation Is Needed!
When we understand the Biblical story of creation in these broad terms, we begin to see our need for salvation. It was because of this need that the Christ Spirit or Logos (Word) entered into the world in the physical form of Jesus. It was also because of this need that John received his message through his vision and then wrote the book Revelation. Because humanity’s basic sin is simply self, the good news or message of Revelation is directed toward the overcoming of self while in the flesh. We, as individuals, have added the physical to what we are. Our souls, being the record of all we have experienced, are not simply spirit: Our souls include the physical as something worthy of saving – of spiritualizing and glorifying – so we may return to God and share with Him all that we are. Then we can be true companions with Him. The story of Revelation tells us what to expect as we accomplish that goal.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
3 The Apostle John is believed to also be the author of the Gospel of John as well as I, II and III John.
4 Bromiley, G. W., p. 172
5 Some philosophers have denied the reality of the physical world while others hold that the spiritual, unseen world is more real than the physical world. For our purposes, we can accept this second philosophy, as long as we accept, in some way, the existence of both the physical and the non-physical realms.
6 This is very much like the philosophy of Socrates and Plato in their theories of the “Ideal.” The non-physical world (or spiritual world) is more “real” than the everyday physical world in which we live. Just as my shadow seems to be alive because it moves around, it is but a “shadow” of the reality that is me. In a similar manner, the physical world seems to be “real,” yet it is only a shadow of the higher reality called the spiritual world, or the “world of ideals.”
7 The Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. 12, p. 347.
8 This is not to say that they believed that everything repeated itself over and over again. The beginning of each new age simply meant that something was changed. For the Apocalyptic writings, this would mean that evil had been eliminated and goodness or fairness was again in control.
9 Efird, James M., p. 140.
10 Hall, Manly P., p. CXIII.
11 Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament, Editors: G. Johannes Botterweck and Helmer Ringgren, Vol 1, pages 75-87. This word generally has the meaning of a collective noun, thus “humankind.” It is derived from a word meaning “red” or “ruddish” such as the red soil.
12 John Van Auken, Born Again and Again, p. 22.
13 Ibid, p. 27.
14 Manly Hall, p. LXXXVIII.