THE BOOK OF REVELATIONS
By Robert A. Richert
Does the Book of Revelations predict that we are living in the last days before an impending and inevitable Apocalypse, or that this event will occur sometime in the future? No on both counts!
According to the college textbook, Understanding the Bible; a Student’s Introduction, Harris, 1985, page 280, the Book of Revelations was written at the end of the first century during the reign of the Roman Emperor Domitian; 95 – 96 CE. There is very little dispute about this date amongst respected Hebrew and Christian scholars. The author was neither the apostle John nor the author of the Gospel John. No one knows for certainty who authored this famous book. Revelation is substantially about events occurring at the time of the destruction of the Hebrew Temple by the Romans around 68 CE and up until the time the book was written. During the middle to late first century, the Hebrews and early Christians were experiencing rigorous and intense persecution by the Romans and for all they knew, their cultures might soon be destroyed forever. From their point of view the Apocalypse was imminent! The belief that “The end is near” is reflected many times—at least 30—in the New Testament, including by the words attributed to Jesus in Matthew 16:28, 23:36, 24:29, and Mark 9:1, 13:30.
According to Understanding the Bible, Harris, 1985, page 359, “John borrows many of his characteristic symbols, images, phrases, and theological assumptions from numerous Old Testament books, particularly Daniel, Ezekiel, Joel, Zechariah, and Jeremiah”. Despite the obscure language of Revelations, scholars have unraveled the probable meanings of many of its passages. For example, the beast with ten horns and seven heads likely symbolizes Rome. The famous number of the beast, 666 is widely accepted by scholars as a reference to Nero Caesar, whose name in Hebrew has the numerical value of—you guessed it; 666! The language of Revelations is allegorical and symbolic because of the intense Roman persecution during those times. You better watch what you say or write because impugning the empire was punishable by death. If this book were about events destined to occur far in the future from the first century, there would be no need to mire the text in the ambiguous language of symbolism and allegory. In addition, people under extreme duress and imminent destruction are not likely to write about events that are not going to occur until more than 2,000 years after they are gone! Biblical apologists often trot out a quote from Mark 13:32, “…about that day or hour, no one knows”. However, this is no help to their cause because the text does not infer that the hour and day are way off in the distant future; ‘the end’ could still be imminent. Again, the belief that the Apocalypse was ‘near’ is prominent throughout the New Testament, and considering the dire circumstances inflicted upon first century Hebrews and Christians by the Roman Empire; understandably so! Within the pages of most university level textbooks one can discover a great deal of information about this turbulent time. Those who are really interested in becoming enlightened about the Bible should feel obligated to inform themselves with this material.
The evidence is crystal clear —The Book of Revelation has NOTHING whatsoever to do with present or future events! It is about events occurring just before and during the time in which the book was written. Fundamentalist efforts to twist and turn these texts (including the above mentioned quotes attributed to Jesus) in order to make them appear relevant to contemporary times or the future simply do not understand the context in which Revelations—and indeed the New Testament—was written. They display ignorance of and contempt for modern Biblical scholarship. In my opinion, they do a ‘grave’ disservice to history and to the Bible itself!