Mainstream scholars are pretty sure John published the Apocalypse around 95 AD. Given what we know of the man, it’s a fair bet most of it was already burned into his awareness at least two decades before. Keep in mind, this fellow was the cousin of Jesus, perhaps 10 or even 15 years younger, and easily His closest and dearest friend on earth. If anyone knew the Mind of Christ, it was John.
They shared the boyhood home of Galilee. John’s family was involved in fishing the sea, while Jesus was raised some distance away because his earthly father appeared to have been employed on a major construction project some 15 miles west of the sea in Sepphoris. Coming back from Egypt, and being warned by God to avoid their old home in Bethlehem, it was probably the most obvious choice for Joseph at the time. Government proclamations no doubt advertised for skilled tradesmen on such big projects as renovating whole cities like Sepphoris. The project took decades and we can safely imagine Jesus worked there with Joseph. From what Jesus said as recorded in the Gospels, He knew more about stone-masonry than just about any other work. But it was obvious that both Jesus and John were familiar with fishing and construction, as well as many other common occupations among Judean peasants.
There is also no doubt both men had devoted considerable time to synagogue studies. Every Jewish boy had the option of pursuing more than was necessary for the Bar Mitzvah, and the rabbis would be holding advanced classes to attract bright minds. We have direct evidence Jesus pursued this (Luke 2:41-50). It’s hard to imagine he didn’t influence His cousin John in the same direction. And both would have been exposed to all the controversies commonly discussed in the rabbinical schools.
Surviving records indicate the various factions in Jewish scholarship included some who made it a point to reject the Hellenism which served as the foundation for Pharisaism. We don’t have a modern equivalent of the Sadducees; they were the remnant of heavy Persian and Babylonian influences producing a highly cynical, almost secularized version of Jewish religion. It was highly pragmatic in that Ancient Near Eastern sense that Westerners struggle to grasp. Oddly, they were almost entirely priests. But there were other, smaller and less organized schools of thought. Some were quite conservative in the sense of directly opposing Greek styled logical analysis. However, such opposition is somewhat less than obvious to us because they used their own ancient Hebrew approach in opposing it. If you had a good grasp of Ancient Near Eastern intellectual assumptions, you would more readily recognize the opposition and it’s forms of argument in the way Jesus debated with the Pharisees.
We could say that, in essence, Jesus was the last and best representative of that Hebraic opposition to Pharisaism. In human terms, He lost the war. They killed Him and drove His disciples underground, and their dominant brand long outlived their other competitors in Jewish leadership. What we today know of as Judaism is essentially Pharisaism, with not a trace of any of the other sects from those times.
We have no doubt John was right there in the thick of things intellectually. You can bet Jesus had to know some Greek and probably used it when necessary, but it is John who finds the need to actually write in it. His Greek is accurate, but he seems to have little of Paul’s native grasp of it, for example. Instead, John’s writing is often characterized as “good schoolboy Greek.” While the New Testament was published in Greek, it is loaded with ancient Hebrew thinking. John’s was the quintessential deep philosophical mind simply stated in easy grammar.
He stands alone in how he broaches the conflict with a typical range of Eastern strategies. It is a mixture that includes frequent sarcasm by using the same argument forms to say something different, even objectionable in Greek philosophy. In essence, he treats Hellenism as the smart-mouthed young punk who really doesn’t understand what he opposes, except purely in his own terms. John understood Hellenism, but Hellenists couldn’t understand him too well. He saw too clearly where this was going.
The first foreign missionary team included Paul, who was also in a unique position to understand this conflict because he started out as a devoted Pharisee, a rising star in leadership training. He got his PhD, as it were, before he even shows up on the radar. But once humbled on the Damascus Road, he then had to make up the years of time he missed by not following Jesus prior to the crucifixion. Eventually he understood the necessity of opposing Hellenism, and he did so as a former insider. His letters are filled with references to particular issues that represent that conflict. And we catch a whiff of the other Apostles involved in the same battles, along with other strong minds that came after them.
But John was the last man standing who knew Jesus, and of all humans, probably knew Him best in that sense. From what I’ve read of the scholars who knew John personally, it seems they lacked his full awareness of the cultural conflict inherent in following Christ. We know how Paul very early faced the Judaizers, among other problems. He knew exactly what to expect and still struggled to counteract their teachings. That’s in part because the ancient Hebrew way is based on voluntary recognition. That is, it assumes God alone turns a human heart to the truth, and that it was not a matter of convincing someone with arguments. Genuine faith is not cerebral, but comes from an awakened heart that must overrule the mind, removing the intellect from the throne of human decision.
Judean Christians were understandably reluctant to leave their homeland. But when historical events drove them out (as Jesus warned it would in Matthew 24-25), some gravitated to the existing large Christian population in Syrian Antioch. However, Ephesus became the other center, and John quickly became the central figure. His major problem was Gnosticism and related goofy heresies, like Nicolaitans. Oddly, these troubling teachings used the same tools as the Judaizers, trying to drag Christian religion down to a more cerebral level, then attacking the ideas with forms of logic that excluded the truth.
The Apocalypse sees this coming, and appearing to win in human terms. John describes a spooky vision of all humanity gathered against the Lord’s truth. At least three times this battle crescendos and God works the same sort of wrath in the same sequence in all three cycles. Only the flavor and extremity changes with each cycle. In terms of Hebrew symbolic logic, it’s repetition that says something in itself: Human opposition is of the same essence no matter what shape it takes, and God answers accordingly when it comes time to crush it. And you get the distinct sense that those who remain faithful never seem to number very high as a proportion, regardless how you interpret the numerical symbols.
That is, the human representation of the ancient Hebrew truth among followers of Christ won’t ever represent a political force, in part because they keep leaving this human plane of existence. Dying in faith is a critical part of the message God brings to the world to help a relative few cross over into faith in each generation.
John was entirely cynical about the extant church as a human institution. He calls it the Harlot at one point. Yet he knew the witness of true believers would never be silenced entirely. So it is the Harlot that insists the end represents a political battle because she wants to ride the Beast. You can see that Hebrew sarcastic smirk on John’s face as he sees the truth escaping her clutches time and time again. Nature itself refuses to let the message go silent.
Yes, a final End of Time is coming, but our part in this never changes. What we face today is Western Civilization, related to, but not exactly the same as John’s big problem of Hellenism. Both simply represent the vast, organized resistance to the Gospel truth of Jesus Christ. In the end, we win.