John tells us that he received his vision on the remote island of Patmos ‘on the Lord’s Day’ (Revelation 1:10). Sunday, the day of the resurrection, was the day on which early Christians gathered to celebrate the Eucharist. John says nothing more about this context. Did he experience his vision while worshipping with fellow Christians? Or was this a solitary experience? Western art has tended to imagine John alone, apart from the presence of an eagle, his traditional symbol in Christian iconography. Eastern tradition, by contrast, has John accompanied by his disciple and scribe Prochorus (see Acts 6:5), and engaged in intense prayer and fasting.
Debates about John’s setting notwithstanding, this particular passage has eucharistic undertones which are frequently overlooked. John receives his revelation not primarily by hearing or even reading, but by ingesting. Readers of the Gospels will hear in the heavenly command to ‘Take it and eat’ (labe kai kataphage auto, literally ‘Take and devour it’) an echo of Christ’s command to his disciples at the last supper (labete phagete, ‘Take and eat’, Matthew 26:26). The connection is not lost on Hans Feibusch. His angel gently places the book in John’s open mouth, as if administering the host, while extending his right hand in the pose of priestly blessing. In response, John raises his hand to receive the heavenly gift. Like the faithful communicant, he is to embody what he now ingests.
This echo of Christ’s words of institution takes on added significance if, as many scholars believe, John’s Apocalypse was intended to be read aloud to Christians in the seven churches of Asia when they gathered for their own eucharistic celebrations. The ‘words of prophecy’ (1:2) they heard are as transformative and life-giving as the bread and cup they received. Word and sacrament: both are potent expressions of Christ’s living presence.
Coke, David (ed.). 1995. Hans Feibusch: The Heat of Vision (London: Lund Humphries)
10 Then I saw another mighty angel coming down from heaven, wrapped in a cloud, with a rainbow over his head, and his face was like the sun, and his legs like pillars of fire. 2He had a little scroll open in his hand. And he set his right foot on the sea, and his left foot on the land, 3and called out with a loud voice, like a lion roaring; when he called out, the seven thunders sounded. 4And when the seven thunders had sounded, I was about to write, but I heard a voice from heaven saying, “Seal up what the seven thunders have said, and do not write it down.” 5And the angel whom I saw standing on sea and land lifted up his right hand to heaven 6and swore by him who lives for ever and ever, who created heaven and what is in it, the earth and what is in it, and the sea and what is in it, that there should be no more delay, 7but that in the days of the trumpet call to be sounded by the seventh angel, the mystery of God, as he announced to his servants the prophets, should be fulfilled.
8 Then the voice which I had heard from heaven spoke to me again, saying, “Go, take the scroll which is open in the hand of the angel who is standing on the sea and on the land.” 9So I went to the angel and told him to give me the little scroll; and he said to me, “Take it and eat; it will be bitter to your stomach, but sweet as honey in your mouth.” 10And I took the little scroll from the hand of the angel and ate it; it was sweet as honey in my mouth, but when I had eaten it my stomach was made bitter. 11And I was told, “You must again prophesy about many peoples and nations and tongues and kings.”