The Influence of Enoch on the Book of Revelation

Enoch Lithograph by William Blake

Enoch Lithograph by William Blake

The Old Testament does not contain an apocalypse. Yes, there are portions of some Major and Minor Prophets that are apocalyptic, but there is no single book that is apocalyptic in its entirety. This is true whether we use the truncated Old Testament of the Protestants, or the more inclusive Old Testament of the Roman Catholics, the Orthodox, and others. Only the Ethiopian Coptic Church has a canon that includes an Old Testament apocalypse. Yet the New Testament contains the Revelation of St. John, a book that is steeped in second temple apocalyptic imagery and thematic material.

The primary difference between the Revelation of St. John and the second temple apocalypses is Christology. Whereas the second temple imagery looks forward to the coming of the messiah, the Revelation of St. John describes Jesus Christ as the Messiah who had come, who was slain, who was resurrected, and who is coming again at the end of the age to judge the living and the dead. What is interesting about the Book of Revelation is the way it borrows the apocalyptic imagery of Enoch in support of its Christology.

In examining this imagery, it is important to note that in the second temple, the Holy of Holies was empty. The Ark of the Covenant was missing. The attentive bible reader will remember how the Ark of the covenant was shrouded in the “thick darkness” of the Holy of Holies (I Kings 8:12); and then how in Ezekiel chapters 8-10, the prophet is given a vision of the glory of God departing from the temple as a consequence for Israel’s sin. After the Babylonian captivity and the rebuilding of the temple, Ezra makes no mention of the glory of God returning, filling the temple, and overshadowing the Ark. The Roman historian Tacitus tells us that when the Roman General Pompey captured Jerusalem in 63 BC, he entered the Holy of Holies. Tacitus writes:

Roman control of Judaea was first established by Gnaeus Pompey. As victor (12) he claimed the right to enter the Temple, and this incident gave rise to the common impression that it contained no representation of the deity—the sanctuary was empty and the Holy of Holies untenanted.[1]

Interestingly, Josephus leaves this out of his account. He writes:

No small enormities were committed about the temple itself, which, in former ages, had  been inaccessible, and see by none; for Pompey went into it, and not a few of those that were with him also, and saw all that which was unlawful for any other men to see, but only for the high priests.[2]

In like fashion, the Jewish Encyclopedia fails to mention that Pompey found the Holy of Holies empty.[3] This should be no surprise; while the temple liturgies carried on in the second temple, the glory of the Lord was missing. Moreover, since the Ark of the Covenant was missing, there was no Mercy Seat, and therefore no atonement for sin. This sense of loss is expressed in the book of Ezra, when the ancient men, those who had seen the first temple, wept over their loss. “But many of the priests and Levites and chief of the fathers, who were ancient men, that had seen the first house, when the foundation of this house was laid before their eyes, wept with a loud voice” (Ezra 3:12).

This sense of loss, that something was amiss, is quite likely the source of much of the second temple literature. The apocalypses in particular supply us with vivid images of a heavenly temple full of angels serving God, a temple filled with the glory of God, and a temple where God is enthroned within the heavenly Holy of Holies. This heavenly temple, unlike the earthly second temple, was a place where God was present.

The calling of Enoch is similar in kind to that of the apostle John. Where Enoch “was blessing the Lord of majesty and the King of the ages” when he was called (Enoch 12:3), John was “in the spirit on the Lord’s Day,” and was called up to heaven (Rev 1:10; 4:1). Both of them were called into the heavenlies, where they both alike had visions of the Son of Man (Enoch 46:1-8; Rev 1:13-18; 5:5-9; 19:11-16). Both alike witness the angels serving God, both witnessed the heavenly liturgies, and both were called into the presence of God, the fully-furnished Holy of Holies.[4]

The similarities between the thematic material of Enoch and Revelation are striking, so much so that it is clear that Revelation is a product of the second temple literary tradition. Yet there are striking differences as well. In particular, the idea that the Son of Man had indeed come, had died, and now liveth for evermore (Rev 1:18). The scandal of the cross is entirely missing from second temple literature, yet is ever present within John’s Revelation. It is therefore clear that whatever debt the apostle John owed to second temple literature in general, and the Book of Enoch in particular, his apocalypse is clearly of Christian origin.

[1] (Tacitus 2015)

[2] (Josephus, The Antiquities of the Jews, 1987, 14.4.69ff, p. 370)

[3] (Jewish Encyclopedia 1906)

[4] (Barker, Temple Theology: An Introduction 2004, 21)