Reading the Pictures of the Apocalypse
Although the struggle between good and evil is described throughout the Bible, perhaps the most dramatic and esoteric images of this battle are contained in the Apocalypse. John the Evangelist, to whom these visions were entrusted at age ninety-seven, had been preparing for them all his life. Known to the high priests as Lazarus, a brilliant young nobleman in Jerusalem, he was educated in the wisdom of the Jewish traditions. He was then the first to be initiated by Christ when, at age thirty-three, he was raised from the dead at Bethany. Later known as the “disciple whom Jesus loved,” he was the only one of the twelve disciples strong enough to be present at Christ's crucifixion. His work and suffering on behalf of the nascent Christian church through the next sixty years eventually led him to imprisonment on the island of Patmos during the reign of the Roman Emperor Domitian (A.D. 81–96).
The visions recorded in the Apocalypse were given to him during this imprisonment with instructions that he write them down for others. They are intended to encourage, admonish, instruct, strengthen, and inspire us in the great battle against evil that will continue into the distant future. As in any protracted battle, knowledge of the adversary's plans, indeed, knowledge of one's own leaders' strategic intentions, is essential. In the past the Apocalypse has sometimes been used to inspire fear and to motivate human souls to strive to be better Christians. But such use constitutes misuse. Fear is a tool of the adversary powers, not of Christ and his followers. The Apocalypse received by John is nothing if not a Christian book, and when properly understood, expands our conception of Christianity to cosmic proportions again.
It reveals in images, that is, a kind of picture language, the deepest secrets of earthly and human evolution. John was instructed to pass these images on to humanity so that, through knowledge, we can be better equipped to evolve spiritually and meet the unfolding power of the adversaries. The images themselves contain the power of the Word, the Logos himself, the power of all becoming and evolving. Taken into the soul they transform; over time they can initiate. This is the connection between the Apocalypse and the work of Rudolf Steiner, who said that simply hearing and reading the results of anthroposophical research can gradually transform the human soul and awaken in us the ability to perceive the spirit.
Rudolf Steiner's writings and lectures on the Bible in general and the Apocalypse in particular involve a dimension of our humanity that is underappreciated in traditional religious streams: the dimension of human knowledge. In the ancient past it was known that knowledge of spiritual realities was attainable, although only by initiates. Today, only knowledge of the physical world is considered valid, while people interested in spiritual things must be satisfied with faith. However, faith alone cannot make sense of the Apocalypse, and traditional Christian theologians are not sure what to do with the book. Its source is non-earthly. It is prophecy, but unlike Old Testament prophecy, we cannot look for its fulfillment in the New Testament. The thinking behind it derives from a source either beyond or preceding the modern, scientific mind.
But when modern methods of science, exact thinking and observation, are applied to spiritual questions, then knowledge of the spirit is possible. In his basic books Rudolf Steiner describes the spiritual scientific method with its three steps of Imagination, Inspiration, and Intuition. The results of this method are found throughout Steiner's work. They include, among other things, descriptions of the evolution of the earth including its future. This description of future events provides the basis for Steiner's lectures on the Apocalypse. For this reason, a general knowledge of anthroposophy and Steiner's terminology is required to understand these lectures.
This requirement is especially pressing since these lectures are not transcriptions of complete stenographic reports. They have been reconstructed from notes hand written by individuals who attended the lectures. Hilde Stockmeyer took notes during the first Munich lecture while Mathilde Scholl was responsible for the other three. The notes by an unknown auditor that form the basis for the German edition of the lectures held in Kristiania (Oslo) are the most fragmentary. They are stylistically uneven, with frequent omissions and gaps in the manuscript. The lecture of June 14, 1907, held in Paris comes to us through notes taken by Edouard Schuré. Because of their brevity these lectures are, in a sense, incomplete. The reader would do well first to read Steiner's most comprehensive lectures on the Apocalypse, held in Nürnberg 1Rudolf Steiner, The Apocalypse of St. John, 4th rev. ed (New York: Anthroposophic Press, 1977). and refer to them again while reading the present lectures. Although there is little contained in these present lectures not already mentioned in Nürnberg, this new volume is quite useful just because of its brevity.
The lecture of May 21, 1909, contains what is probably the earliest mention of Christ's reappearance in Steiner's work. While describing the sixth post-Atlantean cultural epoch from the point of view of the development of manas, the transformed astral body, Steiner says that those who have made themselves capable of recognizing Christ will see him in his etheric body, “for he will come again.” A few months later, on January 25, 1910, the second coming of Christ was predicted for the twentieth century. Eight days hence, on February 2, 1910, it was narrowed down to the decade between 1930 and 1940. We can see from this sequence an example of the way in which Steiner apprehended facts from the spiritual world. After first perceiving some spiritual reality he could narrow his focus and inquire even more closely with his clairvoyant consciousness.
Eventually Steiner pointed to the year 1933 for the appearance of Christ in the etheric, an event made possible only through the expiration of Kali Yuga and through the evolution of certain faculties of the human soul. Human beings will become increasingly able to perceive the surrounding world of formative forces. At first this perception is a “delicate seed that can be trampled to death by brutal materialism.”
But the year 1933 appears to have brought something quite other to humanity. Emil Bock in his book the Apocalypse 2Emil Bock, The Apocalypse of St. John (Edinburgh: Floris Books, 1951). describes how Rudolf Steiner speaks in 1924 of the work of Christ's opponent, the demon of the sun, called “the beast” in the Apocalypse. In order to grasp the etheric event of Christ's reappearance, it is necessary to encounter the beast, the adversary of humankind who “rises up” in 1933. Steiner considered the simultaneous appearance of Christ and the Antichrist to be a first in world history. The double aspect of the year became apparent: the renewal on a wide scale of Paul's experience of Christ on the way to Damascus, and the opening of the abyss of evil. Human beings have been driven by the struggle against evil in all its forms to the very brink of existence, where they have perceived Christ. Although Steiner almost always stressed the positive, he could certainly also describe the negative, dark aspects of any subject under investigation. The “war of all against all,” for example, is given a full description in the Nürnberg cycle, and is also mentioned here. This great culmination of egotism known as the war of all against all, is to take place at the end of the seventh post-Atlantean epoch, which would place it three to four thousand years from the present. Because of misunderstandings concerning Steiner's statements on the dates for this war, it is important to point out that he did not say this war would occur at the end of the twentieth century. He spoke only of conditions at the end of our century that would be similar to a war of all against all.
He did say, however, that the working of Sorat, the two-horned beast described in chapter 13 of the Apocalypse, was connected to the number 666 and therefore, we could expect an intensification of his influence around the year 1998. Sorat's influence is not to be confused with the war of all against all, or with the incarnation of Ahriman, an event projected to take place in the early part of the third millennium. For a complete discussion of the nature and timing of these events, as well as a clear distinction between the three adversaries of human evolution — Lucifer, Ahriman, and the Asuras — the reader should refer to three outstanding articles by Hans-Werner Schroeder which appeared in the Newsletter of the Anthroposophical Society in America, Summer 1979, Spring 1980, and Summer 1980. Many questions that might arise in reading these lectures will find their answer there.
A note concerning the translation: The terms for intervals of time — period, epoch, age, culture, time, times, and so on — are not used in a consistent, technical manner. Steiner himself did not employ the German terms in this way. The seven post-Atlantean cultural epochs, for example, are designated by a variety of German words: Kulturperiode, Kultur, Zeitraum, Kulturepoche, Zeitepoche, Zeit, and so on. In any given context, readers must discern for themselves which particular time-cycle is meant. It did not seem right to impose a rigid terminology upon Steiner when he himself avoided one.
In the New Testament it says that the second coming of Christ will occur in the realm of the clouds. What Steiner's lectures make clear is that some of these clouds will be very dark, bringing thunder and lightning.
James H. Hindes