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AUGUSTINE AND REVELATION
by Maurice A. Williams
6/15/2007 / Bible Studies
I recently studied many commentaries. Researching prior works helped me prepare my own commentary. I found many interesting prior interpretations in my search. I though this commentary by St. Augustine might be of interest.
St. Augustine (A.D. 354-430) interpreted Revelation in his book "The City of God," (New York: Marcus Dods Translation. Modern Library Publishers, 1950). He divided humans and angels into two societies or, as he puts it, cities. One serves God and is populated by the good angels and all humans of good will. The other opposes God and is made up of fallen angels and all humans of evil will.
The human elements of these two societies were founded on earth by Cain (who rebelled against God) and his brother Seth (who served God). As these societies developed, they spread and attracted the other offspring of Adam. The earthly city attracted those who prefer earthly things over God; the godly city attracted those who prefer God.
All humans are exposed to these two alternatives and choose according to their hearts. Augustine outlined the history of these two societies to Christ's time. Then, in book XX, section 19, he predicts their future by interpreting Revelation.
Augustine believed the millennium started with Christ. He quotes Matt. 12:28, Luke 10:9 and Luke 11:20 to show that Christ told people the kingdom had already started. This kingdom is really the city of God's people brought to a higher perfection by Christ. In this more perfected state, it will continue until Christ returns.
Augustine's commentary begins with the binding of Satan and the establishment of the thousand-year rule of saints. Before getting into that, however, Augustine discussed Daniel's beasts from the sea. Daniel's four beasts represent four empires: the Assyrian, the Persian, the Macedonian, and the Roman (Dan. 7:1-28). Augustine explains that these are successive manifestations of the city of the wicked.
Augustine had a problem with the ten horns (or kings) of the fourth beast (Dan. 7:7 & 24) because Rome had more than ten kings during the monarchy. He felt that ten stood for fullness of number, representing all the Roman monarchs.
The little horn that arises (Dan. 7:8 & 24) is the antichrist, who will appear shortly before the final judgment and attack the followers of Christ (XX, 23, p. 748). God will intervene and stop this persecution (XVIII, 53, p. 665). Then comes the final judgment and the saint's eternal reign.
Antichrist's three-and-one half year reign will coincide with the last three-and-one half years of the saint's terrestrial reign (XX, 13, p. 730-2). Satan, bound since the beginning of the terrestrial millennium, will be released when antichrist reigns.
Augustine's interfacing of past history to Revelation occurs at the point when Christ bound Satan. Christ started binding Satan right after Pentecost as Christianity spread throughout Judea. As Christianity spread, Satan's activity within the converted areas was progressively curtailed. When Christianity spread outside Judea into the surrounding nations, the binding of Satan became more widespread.
Once bound, Satan will remain bound until Christianity becomes established, and then Satan will be released. Afterward will come Antichrist's three-and-one half year reign. Augustine felt the wicked would not return to God then because Satan would once again be fully armed (XX, 8, p. 722).
To defend his interpretation, Augustine quotes Matt. 12:29: "Or how can any one enter into the house of the strong, and rifle his goods, unless he first bind the strong? and then he will rifle his house." (XX, 8, p. 724). This is what Jesus is doing during the Christian age: binding Satan so Jesus can rifle, or take away, the people of good will that once were claimed by Satan.
In addition, as Christianity grows, Satan is more and more restricted to the bottomless pit, which Augustine defines as a spiritual abyss fueled by the mentality of the wicked whose malice towards Christ is bottomless. Satan was in that spiritual abyss all along. Deprived now of god-fearing people, Satan takes even firmer hold on the wicked (XX, 7, p. 720).
The souls released from Satan's grip had lost spiritual aliveness due to their own sins and the lasting effects of our first parents' sin. Christ restores spiritual life to the souls he releases by applying his own spiritual life to them through their faith. They sealed his life in themselves through baptism. Now they who were spiritually dead are alive. This is the soul's resurrection. The second resurrection will be the body's resurrection.
He quotes John 5:25-6 to prove his point: ". . . the hour cometh, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice . . . and they that hear shall live." This describes the first resurrection: the soul's resurrection from spiritual death.
Then Augustine quotes John 5:28-9 on the second resurrection: ". . . for the hour cometh wherein all that are in the graves shall hear the voice of the Son of God. And . . . shall come forth unto the resurrection . . .." (XX, 6, p. 275). Augustine then draws a parallel. Since there are two regenerations: one of the soul in faith by Baptism, the other of the body in flesh by incorruption, so are there also two resurrections. The first one is of the soul in this world; the second one is of the body in the next world (XX, 6, p. 718). The first resurrection is into the kingdom already established. We on earth participate in it.
There are tares with the wheat in this world. The tares (the wicked) will grow along with the faithful until the end. Angels will first reap the tares and burn them; then they will reap the wheat (XX, 9, p. 725).
To show that the first resurrection is not bodily resurrection, he quotes the New Testament on resurrection through baptism: ". . . risen with Christ (Col. 3:1) . . ." and: ". . . walk in newness of life." (Rom. 6:4) and: "Rise . . . Arise from the dead: (Eph. 5:14) . . ." and ". . . go not aside from him lest you fall." (Eccles. 2:7). Fall in Latin is derived from the Latin word "cada," as in "cadaver." It is used here to mean fall dead. He also cites Rom. 14:4: "To his own master he standeth or falleth." And 1 Cor. 10:12: ". . . he that thinketh himself to stand, let him take heed lest he fall." (XX, 10, p. 728).
The thrones the elect sit upon in Rev. 20:4 are not thrones of judgment, but those of Church rulers (XX, 10, p. 726). The martyrs are named for a part, the best part, of all deceased that belong to Christ (XX, 10, p. 727). The saints will continue to reign after Satan is loosed (XX, 13, p. 732). Christianity will not disappear.
Augustine claims that Scripture indicates that Satan, when loosed, will seduce the nations--not merely humans--but whole nations, nations now united with Christ, but before were in error and impiety. Revelation does not imply that Satan, when bound, shall seduce no person anymore; but that, when bound, Satan shall not seduce the whole people who make up Christianity. Augustine feels the reason Christ bound Satan for one thousand years was to allow the nations to grow sufficiently strong, so that, when Satan is released, the nations need not be, and have no excuse for being, deceived by Satan (XX, 7-8, pp. 721-2).
Gog and Magog are not specific barbarian nations, nor are they the Getes and Massagetes. Gog and Magog depict the "house" (gog) and "of the house" (magog); that is, "the house" and "he that cometh out of the house". Both names refer to all nations, neither refers directly to Satan. The nations are "the house" because Satan is hid and housed in them. They are "of the house" because having harbored secret hatred, they now spew open hatred, and attack Christ's followers throughout the earth (XX, 11, p. 729).
Augustine described two kingdoms of God. For the first resurrection, there is a kingdom where both those who obey the Commandments and those who disobey are found. For the second resurrection, there is a purified kingdom where only those who keep the Commandments can enter. This purified kingdom is perfect and utterly exempt from evil. So the earthly kingdom is both the kingdom of Christ and the kingdom of heaven; whereas, in the next life, there will only be one kingdom, the one of heaven, the one without tares (XX, 9, pp. 725-6).
"Fire came down from heaven and devoured Gog and Magog." Augustine interprets the fire as the saint's unyielding firmness against the wicked. Their firm faithfulness to God shall burn the wicked (XX, 12, p. 730).
Even though we all know the world will end, Augustine cautions against any attempt to compute the years still remaining. Christ himself said it is not for us to know these things (XVIII, 53, p. 665). When the final judgment occurs, those not belonging to the City of God will go to eternal misery, which is the second death. Souls there shall forever be separated from God, their life, and their physical bodies shall forever be subjected to everlasting pain (XIX, 28, p. 709).
Augustine interprets the new heavens and new earth this way: the present world shall lose its form by worldly fire, as it formally was destroyed by earthly water; and all corruptible qualities will burn away. God will then renew the world to make it fit for people with immortal bodies. This renewed world is the place, the new heaven surrounding the new earth, where the immortal ones of the second resurrection will dwell (XX, 16, p. 735). The new Jerusalem is a vision of the eternal heaven, the place where humans and God interact. There is no grief there, no death, no sin (XX, 17, p. 736). Augustine's writings have strongly influenced Catholic thinking about Revelation.
Maurice A. Williams
Author of "Apocalypse: Four Horsemen Three Woes." http://www.geocities.ws/mauricewms2003.
Williams is a semi-retired Director of R&D and still works as a consultant. He is married, lives at home, and has four children and six grandchildren.
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