The central "Adoration of the Mystic Lamb" panel, painted by Hubert and Jan van Eyck in the early 1400s.
Acts 13:14, 43-52
Ps 100:1-2, 3, 5
Rev 7:9, 14b-17
Pop quiz: which book of the Bible describes black
helicopters, high-tech warfare involving Russia and China, and computer chips
embedded in human flesh?
Hopefully you answered, “None.” But you may know that some
Christians believe the Book of Revelation, or The Apocalypse, describes
soon-to-transpire, end of the world events in harrowing detail. And most
peopleeven many Catholicsbelieve that the final book of the Bible is an
unremitting work of doom, gloom, and bloodshed.
John the Revelator’s book undoubtedly contains images of
doom and gloom, but not for those who stand for and with Christ. And while
there is plenty of bloodshed in the Book of Revelation, the good news is that
the blood of the Lamb, shed for the sins of the world, cleanses those who
faithfully follow the Shepherd.
In other words, today’s reading from The Apocalypse is filled with joy. It
proclaims that God will not only overcome evil, He willat the end of time as
we know itbring together all of those who love Him. The great multitude
witnessed by John consists of those who have been saved through suffering, just as Savior, the slain Lamb (Rev. 5:6),
brought salvation through suffering and death. “The Church will enter the glory
of the kingdom,” explains the Catechism, “only through this final Passover, when she will follow her Lord in
his death and Resurrection” (CCC 677).
Those in the great multitude, from every nation, race,
people, and tongue, are the Church. They make up the New Israel, which has gone
through a New Exodus. While the first Exodus involved the people of Israel
being saved from the tyranny of Egyptian slavery, this final Exodus consists of
the people of the new covenant being saved eternally from the domination of sin
and death. As Jesus states, in the reading from today’s Gospel, “I give them
eternal life, and they shall never perish” (Jn. 10:28). The salvation of a
multitude too large to be counted is a fulfillment of the great covenant made
with Abraham: “I will make of you a great nation … All the communities of the
earth shall find blessing in you” (Gen. 12:2, 3; cf. Gal. 3:7, 29).
Overcoming death and establishing eternal life is a
constant theme in The Apocalypse. This can be seen in the imagery throughout
the book, which is bursting with allusions to the Old Testament, especially the
Pentateuch and the Prophets. The idea of being made “white” through
perseverance in faith is drawn from Daniel, a book used often by John: “Many
shall purify themselves, and makes themselves white, and be refined” (Dan.
12:10). White robes symbolize holiness and endurance. Priests in the time of
Christ were examined for purity; if they passed, they were dressed in white
robes, as was the High Priest. In the new covenant, those who have been
baptized into Christ, the High Priest,
and who endure to the end will be saved through the sacrifice of the Lamb on
The palm branches allude to the feast of
Tabernacles (cf., Lev. 24:39-40), which celebrated the harvest of crops and
commemorated God’s divine protection during the Exodus. Palm branches were also
used as symbols of victory (1 Macc. 13:51; 2 Macc. 10:7). In The Apocalypse
they stand for God’s victory over evil, His protection of the Church throughout
the time of tribulation, and the restoration of right relationship with God, as
evidenced by the songs of praise before the heavenly throne.
John’s vision is also filled with a liturgical and
sacramental perspective. The great multitude worship God in His temple, which
ultimately is the Person of Christ (cf., Jn 2:19-22). Being washed and made
white suggests the bath of Baptism, and the lack of hunger or thirst is
Eucharistic in its promise of complete joy in the presence of the Lamb.
Thus, in the endThe End!the apocalyptic truths of
the Book of Revelation don’t involve helicopters and top secret technology, but
the salvation of God’s flock, His people, through the death and Resurrection of
(This "Opening the Word" column originally appeared in the March 30, 2007, issue of Our Sunday Visitor newspaper.)