APOCRYPHAL STYLE: Revelation
Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, robed in white, and where have they come from?” I said to him, “Sir, you are the one that knows.”
Then he said to me, “These are they who have come out of the great ordeal …They will hunger no more, and thirst no more; the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat…and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”
Revelation was the product of a wandering Christian prophet named John (he never claims to be the apostle John) trying to urge Christians of his time to remain faithful to their faith despite the Satanic machinations of the Roman Empire. Writing to seven Christian churches in Asia minor (1:4), he means to challenge and cajole, as prophets are wont to do. Scholars think him a Jewish-Christian from Palestine who escaped the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D.
Revelation is composed mainly of visions John had in forced exile on the island of Patmos, odd and fantastic visions of Jesus exalted in heaven (often referred to as “the Lamb” because of his sacrificial death), of scrolls and angels, trumpets and dragons, the heavenly court, four living creatures, multitudes in white, a great and horrible beast (a whore astride it), the fall of Babylon, and a new heaven and earth with a new Jerusalem. Some Christians see in these wild visions a description and timeline for the end of the world (seen as happening soon), but the book itself seems to point rather to what seemed like the end of the world near the end of the first century. John looked around at the desperate struggles of Christians with hostile synagogue communities (Judaism and Christianity were painfully splitting up at the time), persecuting Roman authorities, and greed in a time of prosperity, and he felt called to make a statement.
His response begins with specific letters of challenge to the seven churches. Then comes his guided tour of contemporary violence and corruption, all presented in the apocalyptic style. The book ends with vindication, the birth of a new heavens and a new earth. It would be easy to read into the middle section the corruption and violence of our own age, and Christians have done that throughout history. The book certainly provides hope to those struggling in difficult times. Yet the specific images and symbols of Revelation point to the early Christian era— the same images are found in contemporary Jewish literature. The whore Babylon is Rome; the Beast or Antichrist is the emperor; the number 666 calculates out to “Nero Caesar” according to the directives of numerology. The visions contrast the sinister world of Roman authority to a coming age of blessing from God. Those who keep the faith through persecution, social pressure to worship the emperor, conflict with the synagogue, they will be rewarded by God in the new age and new world to come.