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The time, place, and intent of writing the Apocalypse


Ancient tradition places the writing of the Apocalypse toward the end of the first century. For example, St. Irenaeus writes as follows: "The Apocalypse appeared not long before this and almost in our time, at the end of the rule by Domitian." The historian Eusebius (at the beginning of the fourth century) informs us that pagan writers contemporary to his time mention the exile of St. John to Patmos for witnessing to the Word of God, placing this event at the fifteenth year of Domitian's rule (81-96 A.D.).

Thus, the Apocalypse was written at the end of the first century, when each of the seven churches of Asia Minor to whom St. John directed his letters already had its own history and in one way or another had determined the direction of its religious life. Christianity among them was already not in its original state of purity and truth, and pseudo-Christianity was attempting to compete with the true one. Evidently, the activities of St. John, who had spent a long time preaching in Ephesus, were a matter of the distant past. Church writers of the first three centuries concur in the designation of the place where the Apocalypse was written, which they acknowledge to be the island of Patmos, mentioned by the Apostle himself as the place where he received the Revelation (Rev. 1:9-11). Patmos is located in the Aegean Sea to the south of the city of Ephesus and during ancient times was a place of exile.

In the first lines of the Apocalypse, St. John indicates the purpose of the Revelation: to foretell the fate of Christ's Church and of the whole world. The mission of Christ's Church was to revive the world with Christian sermons, to plant in men's souls a true faith in God, to teach them to live righteously, and to show them the way to the Heavenly Kingdom. However, not all received Christian teachings with good will. Already during the first days after Pentecost, the Church encountered hostility and a conscious opposition to Christianity, at first from Jewish priests and scribes, and later from the unbelieving Jews and pagans.

Even during the first year of Christianity, there started a bloody persecution of the preachers of the Gospel. Slowly these persecutions began to take on an organized and systematic form. Jerusalem turned out to be the first center of the fight with Christianity. Beginning with the middle of the first century, Rome, with Emperor Nero (54-68 A.D.) as its leader, joined the hostile camp. The persecutions then began in Rome, where the blood of many Christians was spilled, including that of the pre-eminent Apostles Peter and Paul. From the end of the first century, the persecution of Christians intensified. Emperor Domitian decreed the systematic persecution of Christians, at first in Asia Minor and then in other parts of the Roman Empire. St. John the Theologian, having been summoned to Rome, was there thrown into a kettle of boiling oil and remained unscathed. Domitian then exiled St. John to the island of Patmos, where the Apostle received the Revelation regarding the fate of the Church and the whole world. With but a few interruptions, the bloody persecutions of the Church continued to the year 313, when Emperor Constantine proclaimed the Edict of Milan, allowing the free practice of religion.

In view of the beginning of the persecutions, the Apocalypse was written for Christians in order to console, teach, and strengthen them. It uncovers the secret intentions of the enemies of the Church, whom it personifies in the beast emerging from the sea (as the representative of the hostile secular power) and in the beast emerging from the earth, the false prophet (as the representative of the hostile pseudo-religious power). It discloses the main overseer of the fight against the Church, the devil. This ancient dragon amasses the godless forces of mankind and directs them against the Church. However, the sufferings of the faithful are not in vain. Through their loyalty to Christ and their patience, they receive their earned reward in Heaven. At a time designated by God, the hostile forces against the Church shall be delivered to judgment and punishment. After the Last Judgment and the punishment of the impious, an eternal blessed life shall begin.

The purpose of writing the Apocalypse was to portray the forthcoming battle of the Church against the forces of evil; to show the means by which the devil, with the cooperation of his slaves, wages war against goodness and truth; to give guidance to the faithful on how to overcome temptations; to portray the perdition of the enemies of the Church; and to show the final triumph of Christ over evil.

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