Is the Book of Revelation the prediction of the End of the World?
– The answer is “no.” –
Admittedly, the last book of the Bible is very strange. Preachers like me try to avoid it. Fundamentalist Christians take it literally and preach a very dangerous message: “The world will end after a cataclysmic global war at Armageddon ( chapter 15 & 16). When that happens all the Jews will accept Jesus as Messiah and only the chosen few will go to heaven.” During the Cold War, many fundamentalists Christians took such scenario seriously. They predicted the apocalyptic global nuclear war that will end the world, as the Revelation prophesied. They also called natural disasters like earthquakes and tsunamis as God’s punishment on homosexuals.
However, if you read it like you read “The Chronicles of Narnia” by C.S. Lewis or “The Lord of the Rings” by J. R. R. Tolkien, you will find there is nothing strange about the Book of Revelation. They are Christian literatures written about Christian faith by 20th Century Christian professors of Oxford University. John Bunyan’s “Pilgrim’s Progress” belongs to the same literally genre. They are written in symbolic language.
Unlike fundamentalist Christians, we must not take its prediction literally as the future fate of our world. The Revelation is an interpretation of the events unfolding in the Mediterranean world under the Roman Empire during the first Century. It suggests how Christians can read the signs of the times from the current affairs. The Revelation gave hope to those early Christians who were suffering terrible hardship.
When you study the history of the first Century Roman Empire, particularly under Emperor Nero, you will understand how the Christians saw the situation and described it in symbolic language, i.e. the empire as an ugly beast with seven heads. You must also be aware that in the Revelation events are not presented in a linear fashion. Events are not written sequentially. They are not necessarily related either. When you read the history of Roman Empire, such as Edward Gibbon’s “The History of the Decline and Fall of Roman Empire” and compare it with the Revelation, it is interesting to see how Christians interpreted the events happening around them.
Also you must recognize the fact that it was written in secret codes. The first three hundred years of the Christianity were dangerous time for the followers of Jesus Christ. Often it meant death when discovered, because Christians were seen as members of the fanatic religious sect founded by a treasonous agitator, a blaspheme, and a heretic; and incredibly an atheist. They were seen like today’s ISIS sympathizers. This is why many church leaders wrote their messages in coded language so that only Christians could decipher it. The one still current even today is the sign of a fish to symbolize “Jesus Christ.” Fish in Greek is ιχθνσ IXTHUS. The Christians saw those characters as the initials for “Jesus Christ Son of God – Iesus Christus Theos Fuios – IXTHUS.”
The Revelation is not the only example of such literal form in the Bible. The Hebrew people had had a long tradition of writing their dreams, messages, and visions in secret code when they lived in dangerous times. The Book of Daniel in the Old Testament was written in the same literal form. The writer of the Book of Daniel lived after Israel was defeated by the Babylonian Empire and the elite and the leadership were taken captive and exiled in a foreign country. Like the Revelation, the latter half of the Book of Daniel is a collection of strange images and visions. It is a coded document passed around among the Israeli prisoners and those who lived in exile.
The literal style of Revelation and Daniel is called “apocalypse” to mean the end of the world. Also some scholars claim that Mark’s Gospel chapter 13 takes the apocalyptic style. It is because it prophecies the end of an era. The Revelation is predicting the end of the Roman Empire, not the end of the world. Be that as it may, it’s supposed to hide the real message in secret language so that only people who know the code would hear its message.
Nobody knows who wrote the Revelation. It carries the name of John and follows the style of Greek language resembling that of the Gospel according to John and three letters which also carry the same name. It is impossible that they were written by Apostle John, he should have been more than a hundred years old had he written it. But there is a connection between those Johannine literatures. For one thing, their Greek language has common features; in fact it sounds like childish Greek written by a child in the grade two. As a first year seminary student, I began reading Greek with John’s Gospel: easy to read like baby-talk. Secondly whoever wrote them worked among the Christians who lived in the present day Turkey, Asia Minor. Letters to seven churches indicate the writer was familiar with those churches in present day Turkey. Whoever it was he must have belonged to the group began by Apostle John.
Let me list a few examples of coded words and numbers:
Angels – intermediary. Animal or beast – Roman Empire. Colour white also crown – victory. Eyes – knowledge. Horns – power. Lamb – Jesus Christ.
Often number do not mean mathematical numbers. They have meanings, often representing objects:
One – unity, 2 – union, 3 – completion, 6 – weakness, 7 – spiritual perfection, 8 – new birth, 12 – perfect government, 22 – light, 23 – death, 33 – promise, 200 – insufficiency, 7000 – final judgement, 144,000 – number of Jews.
The Revelation is a document in coded language, secretly passed around among the First Century Christians who lived in the present day Turkey. It is a commentary of the events unfolding around them, often suffering persecution by the Roman authorities. You must not read it literary. You must know the code. You must never try to apply its prediction to our situation. But we can admire the courage of those Christians who lived under such a severe situation without losing hope and were determined to keep their faith.