Structure of the seven letters
The letters to the seven communities are all structured in a similar way. First the letter opens with a majestic announcement, emphasizing a certain quality and symbol of the Son of man. Then follows the key message which describes the essence of the community, its positive and negative characteristics, followed by a warning to improve the negative and strengthen the positive qualities. Finally, the future outcome for those which overcome the weaknesses and temptations is described as a shining promise (Schult, p.38).
Human evolution according to the Apocalypse
The seven letters to the communities are related to the external world of the present Post-Atlantean epoch, in which we prepare for our further spiritual development. After this, seven seals will follow, which represent the world of perceived inner images, the world of imagination. Subsequently, the seven trumpets start to sound and now man enters the world of inspiration, the so-called harmony of the spheres. Only after the emptying of the vials of wrath, which strip off all aspects that withstand the uplifting of our souls to the unification with the divine, the initiate becomes able to directly perceive the ideas of the acting divine forces themselves, the world of intuition (Steiner, GA 104,18 June 1908). Advanced individuals can realize already now, what awaits mankind as a whole in phases of evolution to come.
The Apocalypse places the inner development path of consciousness in a parallel world to the external path of history where the development path is showing consecutively the steps of the seven communities as seven cultural periods, the seven seals as seven future cultural periods in the so-called Seal epoch, the seven trumpets as seven even later cultural periods in the Trumpet epoch, the seventh or last epoch of our mineral planet Earth. This will be shown later in more detail.
We can learn by regular exercises to come to the perception of the finer realms of existence than the material world. Apart from our physical senses, like our eyes and ears, we can gradually also develop inner senses leading to clairvoyance and clairaudience, etc. (Steiner e.g. GA 10, GA 104). How these abilities can be developed will not be discussed here, but a broad literature on this subject is available. Such training is often offered to followers of esoteric traditions and schools which have kept these wisdoms through the ages and practiced their methods. The seven steps that move through the Apocalypse are also regularly found in some form in these traditions.
Ephesus, the first community, was the capital of the Province of Asia of the Roman empire and was very wealthy. It was the most important city of Asia Minor and had some 250,000 inhabitants. Caesar August visited the city four times. Asia Minor functioned as the spiritual center of the Roman empire. Here the intellectual inheritance of Greece was found. Many eminent Greek minds come from this area, such as Homer, Thales, Pythagoras, Herodotus and Galenus. Heraclitus was initiated in the mysteries of Ephesus. By writing to the seven communities, John addresses the whole of Christianity of his days (Schult, p.36,39). All these communities were located at the major traffic roads of that time.
Contrary to present times, Ephesus was situated in those days at the sea. The famous temple of Diana or Artemis was established in the years 550-440 BC, and has been destroyed several times by floods and by fires lighted by warlords, but was rebuilt each time. The temple was also of great importance in the days of John. The apostle Paul worked several years in Ephesus. When Jerusalem is destructed in the year 70 John goes to Ephesus. After his imprisonment on Patmos John returns to Ephesus, where he still serves as bishop several years at very high age.
The leading angel of each community
According to Rudolf Steiner (GA 346, p.62-65), the leading priest of a community in the days of John knew to be overshadowed by the leading angel of his community. In another lecture Steiner (GA 8, p.116) says: ‘The angel can be imagined as the spirit of the community that is on the road indicated by Christianity. He is capable of distinguishing between the right and wrong followers of Christianity. The angel should be able to not let the road towards the highest love be obstructed by any mistake. Jesus Christ has shown the way to reach to the divine and eternity. The danger is that man thinks too early to have understood the real sense of life and falls back in the lower human desires. If the sense-bound knowledge, linked to the mind, is not spiritualized to wisdom, it will not exceed what passes away.’
Worshipping of the chaste goddess Diana
The first letter, meant for the community of the Christians at Ephesus, represents the first cultural period after the submersion of Atlantis. According to Steiner (20 June 1908) the rest of the old Indian culture (7000 – 5000 BC) could be found in Ephesus. The old Indian culture knew a longing for the more and more disappearing communication with the angel hierarchies. During the sleep at night the lighting spiritual world could still be experienced (Steiner, GA 104a, p.84). The seven Rishi’s from the old Indian culture had a special relationship with the great initiates from Atlantis (Steiner, GA 104a, p.100) and felt united with Brahma. Their orientation was not on the external but on the inner world (Steiner, GA 104a, p.96). The dominant striving to become unified with the spiritual world is also found in great Indian religions, such as Brahmanism, Hinduism and Buddhism. Schult (p.41) values the aspirations of Indian yoga as mainly directed towards the path of awareness and finds a synthesis between love and wisdom more reflected in the Bhagavad Gita. The latter is in his eyes most related with the Apocalypse.
In the worship at Ephesus of the Roman goddess Diana or Greek goddess Artemis, which are also goddesses of the Moon, the aversion to the sensuous life was dominant and the first inclination was to value the spiritual side of life. In John’s time the possibility to have a direct communication with angels through priest rituals in the mystery schools was over, but the priests in Ephesus still knew from which tradition they came (Steiner, GA 346, 6 September 1924).
Leaving the first love
The writer of this first letter criticizes members of the community in Ephesus that they have left their first love. Different interpretations have been given to this abandoning of the first love. Steiner relates the first love with the love to cultivate the land and plant in it the divine seed, the spiritual fortitude working through the human mind. Bock (p. 69) sees the first love also as love for the earth with which the human soul incarnates. It is the love that accompanies the start of our life. The community of Ephesus has wrongly left this love for cultivating the land.
Schult (p.40) emphasizes another aspect and points at the eternal polarity between knowledge and love, head and heart, the tree of knowledge of good and evil and the tree of life. Those who strive in a one-sided way to acquire knowledge can easily lose the love associated with the tree of life. Ephesus was a city of wisdom where the acquisition of wisdom and gnosis was strived for. This was also the case for the Christian community at Ephesus. But when the strive for knowledge becomes too one-sided, one is eating too much from the tree of knowledge and too little from the tree of life that is in God’s paradise. Then the Fall of man repeats itself. Originally man was completely bailed in God, says Schult. His whole love was devoted to God only. God’s love streamed through him and overflowed from him to the whole of creation. But when man starts to tie off himself and starts to focus on himself and begins to experience the cosmos as separate from God, then he loses his first love. From that moment on man turns away from God and becomes ego centered. Now he becomes dependent of nature and his passions. This is how the Fall in matter became a reality. The world no longer was a paradise, a cosmic mother, a living Mater, but became a dark Earth world, fell into dead matter. From the original man, Adam Kadmon, which carried the stars in his hand and walked between the seven candlesticks, he became the earth man whose fate is determined by the stars. In case man persists in this attitude and does not turn around his aspiration, his inner light will be extinguished and his candlestick will be removed, as the letter warns.
The deeds of the Nicolaitans
Hating the works of the Nicolaitans points in the same direction. The Nicolaitans are followers of Nicolaus, who was according to the Bible (The Acts 6:5) a proselyte from Antioch. He is called a man full of the Holy Spirit, which means that he is driven in his thinking and acting by higher than personal interests. He was chosen by the community for important tasks. Proselytes are people which join Judaism at elder age and have in relation to religious duties more freedoms than those born as Jew. However, the followers of Nicolaus allowed themselves more freedoms than he did himself, which ultimately resulted in such things like orgies (Steiner, GA 104a, p.82). The sect of the Nicolaitans only valued man’s life to the degree that it delivers material wealth and sensuous pleasure. The Nicolaitans were a sect taking Christianity too easy (Steiner, GA 8, p.117). They acknowledged that Christ is the divine Word, the eternal wisdom that is born in the human being, but their mistake was that they draw from this the conclusion that human wisdom is equal to the divine Word. The prerequisite to achieve that is the ability to commit to the highest love. Those who have climbed the first step of love should see this as a preparation for climbing higher and higher and should not think that the divine level of love is already reached.
The Tree of Life in paradise
Schult (p.41) emphasizes that in the final part of text fragment 4 the reader is called to conquer the Fall and find the way back to paradise. Man should transform dead matter into the living mother Earth, into the lighting substance of the early beginnings of creation. In this way Schult’s explanation closely fits with the explanation given by Steiner. When matter is transformed by spiritual fortitude, the Tree of Life in paradise is found.
Here, at the start of the Apocalypse, the Tree of Life is mentioned mirroring the final part of the Apocalypse where this Tree of Life is also shown as the source of life flowing from God’s throne. To understand the Apocalypse the reader has to have the content of the whole book in his or her consciousness. The book has to be read over and over again to be able to recognize the end in the beginning and the beginning in the end.
Schult (p.42) summarizes the letter to Ephesus as the movement of the Fall, the loss of the first love, the growth of the divide between love and knowledge, keeping an outlook at conquering this divide by agape, the love that was existing at the start of creation, the return to paradise and the enlightenment of the earthbound man to the Son of man.