Making Sense of Revelation – Part 1

Holding Glasses over BibleThe end of the world has been the subject of much speculation and anxiety, with various predictions of a date coming and going without incident. Many theories centre on the Book of Revelation, the Bible’s last, and see an end time antichrist and a secret rapture of Christians (despite these words not occurring in the book!). It also seems to confirm the inability to buy or sell without a one world order forcing a supermarket barcode to be tattooed on the right hand or forehead (despite its creator rejecting the idea that the start, middle and end positioned guard bars are 6s, meaning no 666 mark of the beast). Has the Book of Revelation been wrongly interpreted?  Is it possible that the associated conspiracy theories and end-time hype simply sell more books to a generation supposedly living in the last of the last days?

Many form strong opinions with limited theological training and an admittedly sketchy understanding of the complex literature of apocalyptic texts. For every Ph.D. favouring one interpretation, there are equally well-trained people advocating another. That’s why I will say, up front, that no-one can surely claim to have the answers.

A valid expectation is to have a consistent approach that answers the text’s questions. A historical one can seem more valid than is justified if there is insufficient detail in supporting verses. A futuristic interpretation has the fall-back that we can’t yet know what will unfold, not to mention the supposed proof of Daniel 9:24-27 (but see my previous post on this issue).

One theory gaining popularity is that, although there is a future second coming of Christ, a future judgment and a Heaven and Hell, much of Revelation is a symbolic depiction of current persecution and imminent catastrophe in the seventh decade of the first century, just prior to the fall of Jerusalem at the hands of the Romans in A.D. 70.

Such a view is supported by Nero’s Hebrew name (used as code to evade detection by Rome) had a numerical value of 666, that he was thought of as a ‘beast’, that multiple literal ‘kings’ (or emperors) are alluded to by the heads of Revelation 17:10, that prophecies of Israel and judgment fit nicely with what occurred at this time, that the Temple is described as if to still be standing, and that other Bible prophecy typically spoke to its own generation even if there was a further layer of symbolism for the future (and perhaps that was why John wrote at the start of the book that the events “must soon take place”.

The one supposedly big problem that has kept people from embracing such an interpretation is their almost certain belief that Revelation was written in the mid-90s and could not prophesy events some quarter of a century earlier with any integrity. Is this valid? We’ll examine this issue more tomorrow, one worthy of consideration because no other biblical book’s interpretation is so dependent on knowing when it was composed.

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