The Secret Revelation of John was probably written around the same time some of the later books of the Bible took shape, but it was lost and buried around the 4th century. Although it was hidden throughout most of Christian history, its message seems especially relevant today because it appeared at a time somewhat like our own.
The book was written a little over a hundred years after Jesus was gone, and the Roman aggression against ‘others’ had risen to its peak. Some parts of the Roman world thrived, but their glory was built on the backs of non-Romans who were crushed. Scholars do not know who the author of this remarkable text is, but it seems evident he must have been a Jewish follower of Jesus who saw hope and help in the message of Jesus for his own day.
So what is the Secret Revelation of John about?
It’s an imaginary story of Jesus’s disciple John grieving over the loss of Jesus and his guidance when the world was falling apart all around him. Jesus appears to him in a vision and brings him hope and guidance by explaining how to claim his divine right to freedom. It might have been understood as a ‘secret’ because the powerhouse in Rome couldn’t see the inner strength Jesus was defending in his followers.
The first portion of the Secret Revelation builds a deep foundation for the battle that lies ahead. It argues for the unfailing and ineffable goodness of the divine Being who is called by several names, such as Invisible Spirit. The battles and struggles of the world are so horrific, the author of the ancient text affirms God’s capacity to overrule every one of the weak spots that could allow creation to falter. There is no lack of love, no lack of wisdom, and no lack of power to defend the integrity of the divine realm.
This foundation is crucial, for the second part of the Secret Revelation unleashes the cruelty of everything that would—if it could—oppose God’s order of harmony, from subtle deceit to outright violence. The mythic character who embodies this opposition, named Yaldabaoth, exposes his own counterfeit nature by claiming to be the one and only great god. His deceitful, lying character provides the key to freedom, because the work of the Savior sent by God was to expose the fraudulence of his lies. The Savior demonstrates why anyone can be saved from unjust oppression. They need not just react in fear or anger, but they can act on God’s empowerment and resist the false authorities.