The Last Book of the Bible is Not Hard to Understand

The book of Revelation is not really a mystery, despite the fact that it is often misunderstood and wildly misinterpreted by modern readers who fail to comprehend its setting and don’t understand its genre. Their confusion is akin to that of someone who goes to watch the horror movie, The Night of the Living Dead and then tries to interpret it as a romantic comedy. Revelation is an apocalypse, a form of literature created to encourage those facing persecution, who lived in an oppressed, controlled society. It has, over the years, comforted Christians enslaved by Romans, hunted by Nazis, or put in the Gulags by Communists.

For the original readers, they recognized it as a message of hope, that the Romans who then controlled the world (at the time the book was written), who attacked and denigrated the Christian faith, and who fed Christians to lions and worse, would ultimately be overthrown. The oppressor’s whip would be broken, the bars of the prison would shatter, and the kingdom of tyranny would be transformed into the kingdom of God.

And of course, that’s what happened. The Roman Empire that had persecuted Christians and killed them, ultimately transformed itself and converted to become Christian itself. From a persecuted minority, the Christian faith became the religion of the greatest Empire the world had ever known to that time. The evil empire had been destroyed, not be force of arms, as many might have imagined—but through the preaching of the Gospel. And its destruction was not physical, but spiritual: the enemy was overcome when he was transformed into a friend.

The book of Revelation does not predict the future (from our perspective today); instead, it now presents the story of what happened in our past. In that regard, it is no different than much of the other prophesy in the Bible. When Jeremiah or Isaiah predicted the conquest of Judah by the Babylonians, it was in their future. For us today, we read their prophesies as history. It should not surprise us that the book of Revelation is the same sort of thing–no different than the other prophesies of the Bible.

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About R.P. Nettelhorst

I'm married with three daughters. I live in southern California and I'm a deacon at Quartz Hill Community Church. I spent a couple of summers while I was in college working on a kibbutz in Israel. In 2004, I was a volunteer with the Ansari X-Prize at the winning launches of SpaceShipOne. Member of Society of Biblical Literature, American Academy of Religion, and The Authors Guild
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