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The End of Time in Revelation and the Gospel of John

I have been arguing that the author of the Fourth Gospel and the author of the book of Revelation could not have been the same person, and in looking back at my posts I realize that I have left out an important point, one of the strongest arguments that we are dealing with two different people.   The theology of these two books is radically different on an issue that is completely central to both of them: their understanding of “eternal life.”

It is true that in some respects these two books have similar theological views.  I have already mentioned, for example, that both see Christ as the “Word” of God (no other NT author expresses this view) and as the “Lamb” who was slain (again: these two books alone use that image).   But both of them are very much interested in views of eschatology, and on these views they differ radically.

The term “eschatology” means the “understanding of the end times.”  Just about everyone has a view about what happens at “the end.”  Some think we die and that is the end of the story (that’s my personal view); others think we die and our souls go to heaven or to hell; others think that Jesus is returning very soon to bring in the millennium here on earth; others think that we are going to blast ourselves off the planet and into oblivion, sooner or later, depending on the outcome of November 8; etc..

Both the Gospel of John and the Apocalypse of John are very much focused on questions of eschatology.  But they differ significantly in…

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Who Could Read and Write? A Blast from the Past.
Did John Write the Fourth Gospel?

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Comments

  1. cheito
    cheito  August 3, 2016

    DR Ehrman:

    YOUR COMMENT:

    As time went on, “the end” that was expected right away – by Jesus himself – never came. And so, to account for the non-appearance of the end, Christian story-tellers changed Jesus’ teachings, so he no longer preached the imminent arrival of the kingdom of God.

    MY COMMENT:

    The view that Jesus Himself taught that the end would happen in his own generation was believed by Christians who were deceived by relying on historically unreliable sources written by “christian story tellers” who themselves were not ‘eyewitnesses’ and depended on variable and contradictory documents; (i.e. Mark, Luke, Matthew, Revelation etc.)

    “The gospel of “John” which we have, may have been compiled and written in the late first century, but the narratives used by the author of John had already been written by the ‘eyewitness himself, (i.e. ‘the disciple whom Jesus Loved.)

    I don’t know the exact date this disciple whom Jesus loved wrote his account, but it’s obvious that he had to be alive to have written it, and that means, that the teachings in “John” were circulating immediately after the resurrection of Christ from the dead.

    “John” doesn’t report that Jesus predicted that he would return in his own generation, because Jesus never taught that he was returning in his own generation… False teachers and prophets began spreading these rumors and writing them in the name of the apostles, to contradict and discredit the teachings of Christ and deliberately deceive the people.

    From the beginning there were false prophets and teachers claiming Jesus said things He didn’t say, just as there are many today who do the same…

    • llamensdor  August 6, 2016

      I doubt that Jesus ever taught that he was “returning.” That is among the innumerable distortions of Jesus ‘s teaching.

    • Tempo1936  August 10, 2016

      I believe the modern evangelical church reconciles Matthew 24, Luke 21, and Mark 13 Book of John by claiming that Jesus is talking about the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. and the end of the Jewish religious system, this is also how they interpret Revelation. In the book of John a believer immediately Enters into the kingdom of God and then goes to be with Jesus at death for eternal life. A believer never exits the kingdom and is always with Jesus forever from the time of initially believing.
      And in this way the books of John , revelation and the synoptic Gospel’s are all in complete agreement relative to end times.

      Only the older dispensational teaching churches believe that revelation is about a future great tribulation. In a preterits view the great tribulation ready occurred and we have no need to worry about it.
      Dr. E does this make any sense?

      • Bart
        Bart  August 11, 2016

        Yes, I think a lot of Christians do reconcile these books in these ways. In my view it’s a stretch!

      • Nomad  December 13, 2016

        Well, I wouldn’t say all modern evangelical churches hold this view; probably less than half. There is certainly more of an interpretive move in this direction among the more progressively minded churches these days though. The preterist view makes much more sense to me than the dispensational one. Dispensationalism is actually a relatively recent view within the church that has created a lot of problems.

  2. Alfred  August 3, 2016

    Are we for certain dealing with different authors, or with an author who has changed his mind?

    • Bart
      Bart  August 4, 2016

      Sure it’s possible. But given the massive difference in writing style, it really does look like a different author.

  3. RonaldTaska  August 3, 2016

    Wow! I did not realize that the Gospel According to John tones down the apocalyptic message. It’s nice to still be learning stuff from this blog at my age.

    Put me in “the blast ourselves off the planet” category. There have been several periods of extinction on earth and, at some point, the human species will find some way to do itself in.

  4. talmoore
    talmoore  August 3, 2016

    Dr. Ehrman, Plato talks about the soul being punished or rewarded after death (cf. Phaedo) in a way that is also spatial rather than temporal. Is it possible that when the Gospel of John was written, the Greek philosophical ideas of the afterlife had already started to unravel some Jewish Christians’ notion of a temporal eschatology, and so the community that composed and copied John had already established a set of beliefs that was not totally Jewish and not totally Greek, but was already some admixture of both (cf. Philo)?

    • Bart
      Bart  August 4, 2016

      Yup, it’s possible. Other platonists had similar views, and John does appear to buy into some platonic ideas (the dualism, e.g.)

  5. fletch777  August 3, 2016

    Any evidence that the author of John (or later books) were influenced by Paul?

    • Bart
      Bart  August 4, 2016

      Mark appears to have been; John and Paul have some similarities, but probably not enough to think one influenced the other.

  6. flshrP  August 3, 2016

    Re: Jesus as a failed apocalyptic prophet.
    Don’t many Christians believe that the death and resurrection of Christ is the fulfillment of that prophecy? You know the rationale: a new (spiritual) world order is ushered in by the resurrection. Jesus’ resurrection produces an infinite amount of grace and salvation for believers, etc. What do you think?

    • Bart
      Bart  August 4, 2016

      My sense is that this idea emerged when the literal end never appeared.

  7. Cristian  August 3, 2016

    What do you say of the “already but no yet” tension in the NT eschatology?

  8. Michael Fischer  August 3, 2016

    Bart, I am not one to criticize scholars, but I feel like you over simplified the Gospel of John and the Book of Revelation. You know as well as I do that trained theologians completely disagree on eschatological views all over the Bible! When you say “He is referring to possibilities in the present, not the future.” I don’t see how you don’t see that he is possibly talking about BOTH.. “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, (eternal life sounds very future) and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die” (eternal life sounds very present)(11:25–26).. I’m a Christian and I enjoy reading your blogs but when it comes to theological cluster issues, like eschatology in Revelation and John, it seems like you simplify it too much and it de-legitimizes your opinion on that topic to me. Thank you for continuing to put out material on a variety of topics though..

    • Bart
      Bart  August 4, 2016

      Yes, it’s a little hard to summarize two books of the New Testament adequately in 1000 words!! But my sense is that John thinks that a believer already has begun to enjoy eternal life int he present, to be continued after death in heaven; for Paul and the Synoptics the eternal existence kicks in at the end of this age, later.

      • webattorney  November 13, 2016

        John Chapter 6:54 has me puzzled. It reads: “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.” When is the “last day” he refers to here? In Jesus’ time or whenever the last day of doom will be? If way in the future, what happens to people who die before this last day comes?

        • Bart
          Bart  November 13, 2016

          He means at the resurrection at the end of time, whenever that will be.

      • Nomad  December 13, 2016

        Is there a sense in which both of these views could intersect? I always got the sense that Paul thought it was a bit of both, but he perhaps place more emphasis in the writings we have on the more ‘future’ aspect. If one is interpreting these two points through a preteristic lens, the end of the age spoken of here was around AD 70, in which case both could make sense. Particularly if one views Revelation as not really a prediction of the distant future, but more as a symbolised present (or soon to be) situation at the time it was written. I don’t think much of Revelation can be or was meant to be taken literally.

  9. john76  August 3, 2016

    Maybe both texts were written by the same person, just that earlier in life the author of the gospel of John was a more positive and idealistic person, whereby later in life by the time of writing Revelations he had become more cranky and disillusioned. That would explain why, as you wrote:

    “both see Christ as the ‘Word’ of God (no other NT author expresses this view) and as the ‘Lamb’ who was slain (again: these two books alone use that image).”

    Or maybe the author of Revelations had read the gospel of John and simply liked and adopted the ideas of Christ as the “Word” and the “Lamb,” like the way Matthew and Luke borrowed from Mark.

    • Bart
      Bart  August 4, 2016

      Yup, possible. I’m more inclined to think he was someone living in the same community.

    • Tempo1936  August 10, 2016

      I wanted to share how modern Christian churches handle The inconsistency between end Time teaching in revelation and John.(we never discuss meaningful issues)
      I am a long time member of a mega church. Our “kingdom now” theology targets millennial’s who are college educated.
      If Pressed, The pastor would say that Revelation and John were written by the same apostle before ad 70 (John).
      There is no need to study revelation as our pastor believes it is symbolic description
      Of the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70.
      The book of John tells us that as believers and followers of Jesus we are in the Kingdom of God now. We never speak of end times as all we need to know is that our sins are forgiven and we are going to have eternal life in heaven because we believe in Jesus.
      Church also has great socially events, comfortable seating, entertainment ,coffee and donuts. Great place to network and find new friends.
      I come to Dr E to learn how the Bible into existence not my church.

      • webattorney  November 13, 2016

        One reason why most churches don’t really discuss meaningful, interesting issues with what the Bible says is because if they did a lot of church goers would no longer be Christians. I am an agnostic who agrees with Albert Camus’ view that life is absurd, but does not agree with him that you have to act in a absurd way. Why make this life more absurd and meaningless. Ultimately, the fact that we struggle and live our lives with some dignity and compassion in itself has some meaning.

      • Nomad  December 13, 2016

        Yes, that sounds about right in my experience of the more progressive churches, but not in most of the more tradtional evangelical churches. Preterism is still a relative minority view in mainstream evangelicalism.

  10. Saemund  August 3, 2016

    I’m not sure if I’m understanding the eschatology of the author of gJohn correctly. Do you mean that, according to gJohn, people who believe in Christ go to heaven when they die? The author of this gospel must have known that people die sooner or later, so I’m not sure what he meant by saying, “Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.” Is it a figurative speech that those “will never die”? Does he mean that people will eventually die but live forever in the world above—heaven?

    • Bart
      Bart  August 4, 2016

      Yes, they have already started having eternal life, and when they die, they ascend to the heavenly realm for eternity.

  11. TracyCramer
    TracyCramer  August 3, 2016

    Dear Bart,
    You write: “Thus, in this Gospel Jesus’ proclamation is no longer an apocalyptic appeal to repent in the face of a coming judgment; it is an appeal to believe in the one sent from heaven so as to have eternal life in the here and now.”

    You emphasize “here and now” or “in the present” several times.

    To the people back then, or to Christians of the Gospel of John school/sect today, is this “here and now” like “union with the ultimate/absolute”, or ” union with the eternal now/present”, or “heaven on earth, now, in one’s heart” (or however they might characterize that experience)?

    And following from that, whatever comes after death, if that is a concern at all, is not relevant or important since what matters is is now?

    • Bart
      Bart  August 4, 2016

      I think different people had different views in the time of the NT, and it’s very hard indeed to know precisely what they were thinking. Some appear to have thought that they already were experiencing the full benefits of salvation in the present, and that this would continue after their death as they ascended to the heavenly realm. It’s a bit hard to figure, since obviously they still got the flu and experienced hardship. But some people are sanguine!

  12. Steefen  August 3, 2016

    Great. Intriguing/Provocative..Enlightening.

    Dr. Ehrman:
    The reason later Gospel authors have toned down or eliminated Jesus’ apocalyptic message (somewhat in Luke; much more so in John; in the later Gospel of Thomas Jesus preaches directly *against* an apocalyptic view!)

    Steefen:
    Then, your book Jesus Apocalyptic Prophet does not have John as part of its foundation because the substance of the title, apocalyptic prophet, is not as supportive of that title?

    Mark 100% supportive
    Matthew 100% supportive
    Luke 60% supportive
    John 25% supportive
    Thomas 0% supportive as you say above

    Would you change the percentages?

    • Bart
      Bart  August 4, 2016

      I don’t think John is that supportive of apocalyptic teachings: there’s really just the one passage in ch. 5

  13. dragonfly  August 3, 2016

    Sounds to me like the two authors were living in different communities.

  14. doug  August 3, 2016

    The evolution of the Kingdom of God from Jesus’ central message of an imminent physical kingdom on Earth to something not imminent and (in the view of some Christians) not a physical kingdom is, to me, one of the most fascinating developments of early Christianity.

  15. Josephsluna
    Josephsluna  August 4, 2016

    Hey Bart! The blog is still going strong I see. Don’t give up because we are not! Things are going not so good in life.. But seems as if this blog makes me better! Thank you for dedicating your time it seems everyday! Your hard work it is not going unnoticed and unappreciated.Thank you very Much!

  16. madi22  August 4, 2016

    Bart, what do you believe the book of revelation is trying to communicate in regards to time and place its referring to? I have heard you talk about it relating to what was happening in the first century? Iv also heard 666 refers to the roman emperor Nero?

    • Bart
      Bart  August 4, 2016

      Yes, I think the author thought these things were to happen “soon” (from his perspective)

  17. KathleenM  August 4, 2016

    There is a lot to read in this post–I will return to it. One striking thing about the early writings, is that the word we translate as resurrection – originally meant “being born again in the spirit (and the light).” Like JBaptist would have been “resurrecting” people into the light by showering them with water, cleansing them of the dark side of their lives. They still do this in the Manachean (sp?) areas of the Near East where the Baptist is recognized as a savior, and devine, not only a saint, and sins are forgiven in his name. When they rise up out of the water, they have been resurrected into the light. There is also the other term “raised up” — in Jesus’ case after 3 days of being dead or assumed dead, which commonly in daily life meant “raised up” from a sick bed on the 3rd day. Gk: Anastasis, yes? rising again, ana p, stasis, stand, to rise “resurrection.” Such as common: “To rise up from a seat.” Meant “rise up to life” in some context. Get with the program. (Then rise to judgment for Gentiles and others later.) Anistemi – figuratively a moral recovery. Return to life, from exile, released from the darkness, or return from away from home. Blessed and Holy are they – Rev 20:6. In Phillipians we have “glorius body” mentioned 3:21. The really old word is Anastatoo – to turn something upside down, to sit down, not up, to turn a chair over, turn a table over, to unsettle, such as destroy a temple, then build it up – rebuild it over – put bottom to top, top to bottom. Or even to build something up at the expense of something or someone. To dislocate, confuse, confound. Anastatos – revolution. Anastatoo was not a secular word, but spreading religious confusion or even error (Galatians 5:12.) – but sometimes I think it was used to mean just leveling a table, like someone said “clear the table” faire le table rase? Descartes? maybe. Yeshua loved parables and sayings, twisting things to clarity.k

  18. gmdave449
    gmdave449  August 28, 2016

    I when I was new to the Bible I always supposed the Gospel of John and Revelation were written by the same person. So I was puzzled to see that both books cite Zachariah 12:10 (“they will look on the one they have pierced”) but use them in very differet ways. In John 19:37, this verse is cited as a prophecy that was fulfilled when the soliders pierced the side of Jesus. But in Revelation 1:7, it is cited in conjunction with Daniel 7:13 as a prophecy that will be fulfilled when Jesus is revealed at his second coming. This makes perfect sense if there are two authors who had two different interpretations of the verse in Zechariah.

  19. Newbhero  October 19, 2016

    The other major difference between the gospel of john and revelations is that revelations depicts jesus as a human. What I mean is that although 99% of the “jesus is god” proof texts came from the gospel of john, several “jesus was a mere man” proof texts come from revelations (jesus receiving a revelation, jesus talking about the temple of his god etc).

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