If you grew up in Evangelicalism/Fundamentalism, you probably grew up with a doom-and-gloom view of the future and “end times.”
Me? I grew up with the whole deal: raptures, tribulations, the Antichrist, and even warnings that those things we first called “barcodes” might actually be the mark of the beast.
End times belief is so much more than an area of theology. It is a complex world-view that shapes every single aspect of our faith and the way we see the world, whether we’re able to recognize it or not.
The book of Revelation– the last book in the Bible– is perhaps the most complex book in Scripture. It is also in this obscure and highly symbolic book that much of the doom-and-gloom end times world-view is planted and watered.
There’s just one problem with building an entire world-view off the book of Revelation: it is a book that is notoriously difficult to understand or interpret. While it would be impossible for anyone to truly understand the book without sitting down for an interview with the author, John, there are some things we do know about it. In light of the few things we know for certain, here are a few corrections to things we were mistakenly taught to believe about the book of Revelation:
The Book of Revelation is not about the “end times.”
John’s Revelation was not something intended to be put in a time capsule and opened 2000 years later. Instead, it was a letter written to very specific churches and was addressing imminent events that directly impacted the people it was written to. John repeatedly uses terms like “soon”, “quickly” and “shortly” in reference to his prophesy– he goes out of his way to make it clear that he is writing about soon-to-happen-events, not ones distant in the future.
Simplified version: It was a letter written by one man to a handful of churches about imminent matters that were relevant to them. For us, this means that Revelation is mostly a book about past events.
Revelation is not a fear-based book of doom-and-gloom.
The book of Revelation isn’t a doom-and-gloom book at all, but rather is a very specific genre of Jewish literature where the main goal is to encourage the readers. Any interpretation that falls outside of encouraging the specific recipients of the letter, is an interpretation that is inconsistent with this literary genre.
It is a letter from one person to a handful of churches, addressing imminent events, and the entire purpose is to encourage them in the midst of these events.
The book of Revelation does not teach a secret “rapture” of the Church.
If I could count the times someone has told me to go back to Revelation to read about the rapture, the number would be considerable. The reality is however, that Revelation doesn’t teach in a rapture at all. It’s simply not in the book. (It’s not even in the Bible.)
Those who believe in the rapture will argue that it’s “implied”, since the Church is only discussed in the first part of the book, but that’s silly. We can’t just make stuff up, but when we say that Revelation teaches the rapture we actually *are* just making stuff up. Rapture theology wasn’t developed for another 1500 years after John wrote this letter.
(Same is true for the Anti-christ, which is a figure from the earlier letters from John and is not in Revelation.)
No one knows exactly what all if it means, and if they claim to, they’re lying.
Since Revelation is apocalyptic literature, it is by nature massively symbolic. Throughout the book we find symbols, numbers, and all sorts of other interesting stuff. While some of it can have an obvious meaning because of themes in the rest of Scripture (such as a symbolic lamb, which is obviously Jesus), much of what is found in this book has been endlessly debated with no clear way to determine a “correct” interpretation.
The reality is that without the ability to travel back in time and talk to the author who wrote it, and the recipients of this letter, we’ll never know the full and correct meaning of everything. While this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try, it does mean you should be ultra skeptical of end-times preachers who claim to have it down to a science.
The book of Revelation is certainly interesting and filled with wonderful lessons to be gleaned, but it is notoriously misunderstood. It is not a book about the “end times.” It does not hold more news than your local newspaper, and it has very little to do with the future.
Instead, it’s a letter John wrote to several churches when he was exiled on Patmos. It was a letter he wrote in the Jewish apocalyptic genre, which was intended to foretell events to immediately occur, and which was designed to encourage those churches as they experienced the turbulent times of the mid first century.
The book of Revelation is a lot of things– but it’s not what your childhood pastor told you it was.
the number of the beast is actually 661 (i think i could be wrong) and fascinating article
Revelation is NOT the last written book in the Bible. I would say the last book is the Gospel of John. Hebrews is also newer than Revelation.
What is often forgotten is that we’re not supposed to focus on “end times” anyway. We’re supposed to focus on today and not worry about the things to come.
Actually, Revelation is not a letter, but it partly includes letters John was told to write by God to some churches. It is, as he says at the beginning, a ‘prophecy’. It is primarily a ‘revealing’ by God of what was and is to come. I dont think it is true to say it simply applies to events that were about to happen at the end of the 1st century or beginning of the 2nd. Some of it yes, but clearly not all.
‘The book of Revelation is a lot of things’ – it is, and a lot more than what you think it is.
” Dr. Benjamin”-you can prescribe medicine?
Ben. The more I read your blogs the more I wonder what happened to you in your biblical quest? The book of Revelation is all about the “end times.” It is the book that completes the bible as canonized and allows us to understand the “Plan of God for Mankind” – something hidden even from the angels.
The fact that many teachers disagree about the meaning of specific passages is no different than that of other books of the bible. When you say, ” We can’t just make stuff up” I believe this blog is just that: made up stuff.
Or, one of your mistaken beliefs might be that the title of the book is “Revelations.”
Sorry, couldn’t resist.
We learned nothing about it when I was a child. When I got saved, it was at the height of The Late, Great Planet Earth craze. Everyone was counting the years since the founding of the state of Israel and scanning the newspapers for events that had been predicted by Ezekiel, Daniel or John. So we heard a lot about Revelation then.
“End times belief is so much more than an area of theology. It is a
complex world-view that shapes every single aspect of our faith and the
way we see the world, whether we’re able to recognize it or not.”
I look forward to future blog posts on the book of Revelation.
As one scholar said about prophecy (not an example of this apocalyptic genre), it’s about predicting the obvious–the inevitable consequences of the way things are going if they don’t change dramatically. The Revelation to John is about reassuring those Christians John of Patmos was writing to that, although they be persecuted for their faith, in the end, God will have the last word. That is why the powerful imagery of a resurrection to a New Heaven and a New Earth is one for Christians through the ages. And most scholars would agree that 666 stands for Nero Caesar, who, dead by the time Revelation is written under the persecution of Emperor Domitian, is symbolic of Rome (Babylon) which will go up in flames to the cheers of the martyrs. Cf. also Vernard Eller’s unique, inclusive take in “The Most Puzzling Book of the Bible.”
Obviously you didn’t get to the end of the letter. If you had you would have read the dire warning about adding anything to those words of prophesy. I sure hope you can focus through all those plagues enough to write about them. I’ve been anxiously waiting for someone to chronicle what they’re like first hand.
Assuming you haven’t been struck yet, thank you Ben, once again, for imparting truth rather than alternative truths.
I grew up on the notion of Revelation being of the future and of the concept of the Rapture. A look for an escape (referencing another article you wrote) explains what sets American Evangelicalism apart from the rest of the world. I have run into people that tend to claim that God is the solution to everything. When I question that, they try to redirect the discussion. It is like trying to improve things on Earth is anti-God.
Ben, Ben, Ben. Of course Revelation was written about the distant future. The problem is that you’re making Revelation out to be a lot of crazy symbols, when the best way to read it is plainly and literally. Then you’d see that those seven churches are actually seven distinct time periods of chronological history and we’re living in the last one. Or maybe the second to last one. Anyway – reading it plainly and literally makes all this ambiguity go away. Except about whether we’re raptured before or during the Tribulation. And what those seven heads of the beast are.
But otherwise, totally plain and straightforward.