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REVELATION (APOCALYPSE)

Commentary by Philip G. Roets STL, SSL

Author of Book of Revelation. Written 85 - 95. A.D.

The Apocalypse (Revelation) has St. John the apostle as its origin. Whether he wrote it in its final form is questioned by some. However, the basic book is Joannine in origin. It is the first of the 5 writings of John in the New Testament. In 85 A.D. John wrote this work to teach the faithful Christians and hide his words from the Romans.

Intended Readership of the Apocalypse

Revelation was always accepted as an authentic part of the New Testament. In the beginning it would have been easily understood by the Christians for whom John intended it.

Apocalyptic Style

Revelation was written in the apocalyptic style - a mysterious style developed in the closing centuries before the coming of Jesus. It’s purpose was to stir up the followers to a more fervent life and at the same time to confuse their enemies. Apocalyptic writing never dealt with the future. Rather, the writers were concerned about a very real, present problem that threatens the whole people.

The apocalyptic style of writing took its origin in the Bible in the time of Ezechiel. He was working and writing in exile at the time of the destruction of Jerusalem in 597-587 B.C. Ezechiel used the mysterious style and actions to try to get the exiles to realize they were in captivity through their own failure and to live according to the Law of Yahweh. They were blaming everyone else and hence were in no way converting to the kind of life Yahweh wanted.

Daniel used this same apocalyptic style a few centuries later in the period of Antiochus the Terrible, 167-164 B.C. Daniel's purpose was to speak to the true followers of Yahweh and to hide his ideas from the enemies of the Jewish faith. The Temple had been desecrated by the Abominable Idol in the Holy of Holies. Daniel wanted to encourage the faithful to believe that Yahweh would help them but they had to cooperate.

Apocalyptic style uses symbols which would have been understood at the time of writing. An example is from Revelation 1:13-16.

robe = priesthood;
white hair = eternity;
bronze feet - permanence;
two-edged sword - judge.
golden sash = royalty;
burning eyes = knowledge;
voice = majesty;

Background Setting for New Testament Book of Revelation.

In New Testament times, the heavy Roman persecution of the Christians began in the early 60's A.D. and continued until the conversion of Constantine in 313 A.D. The persecutions were intermittent during all these years and varied in severity. John wanted to encourage the followers of Jesus to persist in their bravery and at the same time to hide his ideas from the Roman officials.

Over the centuries, Revelation has been applied to many different events. This is not necessarily bad but it must be remembered that the writing is not a prophecy. It is a commentary on the history of the times the book was written. Some general conclusions can be drawn and applied to other times and events, but they were not foreseen in the mind of the writer.

It’s true that the book of Revelation tells about the end in the sense of slaughter, fear and terror. But remember, also, the Book of Revelation is first and foremost the account of the persecution of the Christians by the Romans in the late first century. It was a warning of worse terror to come and the kind of courage the followers of Christ had to have. Again, because of extended and unintended interpretations, many applications have been made to our lives that were never intended. The works of Scripture were never meant to be sensational literature.

Contents of the Book of Revelation.

A good description of this writing is an Epic of Christian Hope at a time when suffering, persecution, and death threatened this hope. It is also called The Victory Song of the Persecuted Church. Both titles describe something of the contents and the purpose of the book.

The basic divisions of Revelation are:
Chapters 1-3: The Church Incarnate.
Chapters 4-20: The Church in the Midst of Battle.
Chapters 21-22: The Church Fully Identified.

The followers of Jesus were in daily danger of being captured and then tortured to death in the Coliseum. To say the least they were afraid and often discouraged. Yet they encouraged each other and only God knows how many of them died for their faith.

In the conclusion of the writing, the Church was referred to as the bride of Jesus Christ. She was dressed in her bridal dress which was beautiful beyond all imagination. The dress was all the good deeds of all the saints. Every good deed was recorded and recognizable in that dress as an individual thread. Not a single thread was lost or overlooked. The wedding banquet goes on for all eternity.

The favorite saying of the follower of Jesus in these days was: “Amen! Maranatha!” These words mean: “Come, Lord Jesus! I truly believe!” The full significance of faith is contained in the Amen:

I understand,
I am convinced,
I am committed, and
I live my convictions.

The Book of Revelation has caused many a headache through the centuries because people have tried to read more into it than was intended. They have tried to apply it to new situations as years went by. They tried to see it as a foretelling of things to happen, and to give an actual date for the end of the world. They have tried to prove, from this writing, that the world will end in an act of universal violence.

The only thing that is said about the end of the world in Revelation is that it will be a “Telos.” This Greek word means “end” in the sense of "Completion.” When the world is brought to the fulness which God planned for it, then a new and final phase of creation will begin. This fulness has to be brought about by the work of the human race. God will be with us until this “telos,” or until all things are complete.

Rather than give you more commentary on Revelation, I ask you to read it with first century Rome's glories and limitations in mind. It will make a lot of sense and the imagery will be self-explanatory.

Revelation, with its encouragement and its ideals, is needed in all ages.

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