The Revelation of Saint John scarcely merits the title. Far from being a revelation, it is the most disliked book of the anti-religious Westerners and even in some parts of the Western Christian Churches. An apocalyptic book describing the revelation Jesus Christ gave to John. It connects the beginning of the Bible (Genesis 1-11) describing the downfall of mankind and his separation from God by giving the hope they are reconciled through Christ. When I read the book of Jenkins, a professor of history and religious studies at Penn State, “The next Christendom” a remark stroked me to look at the Bible through the eyes of a souther church under severe persecution. The Revelation of Saint John was either written following the persecutions of Emperor Nero (but before the destruction of Jerusalem in AD70) or during the persecutions attributed to Emperor Domitian at the end of his reign AD81-96. It was when the seemingly all-powerful Roman Empire with its cult of emperor-worship was persecuting the followers of Jesus Christ. For modern Christians in Nigeria, Egypt, Sudan, Pakistan or Indonesia it is quite conceivable that they will be forced to renounce their faith upon threat of death. Even in societies not in state of extreme violence, there is a lingering sense of threat, a need to be alert, to avoid provocations. States, governed by anti-Christ martyrdom, and forcible removal are not only powerful religious symbols but quite possible outcomes of practicing faith. To quote Nestor Miguez, “the repulsive spirit of violence, race hatred, mutilation and exploitation roam the street of Babylon in Latin America (and the globe)”. In this context, (and others I might add), the Book of Revelation just makes sense, in its description of a world ruled by evil demonic powers. Jenkins final chapter starts by considering Christianity in relation to the future, with particular regard to the new centers of population and the allocation of religious resources to the South. It points out that, for various reasons, including a lack of priests or clergy, the interest and commitment of many Northern/Western churches toward the global South is far less than it once was and that this problem is particularly serious in the Catholic Church. It also points out that Christianity, despite being and likely to continue being the largest religion in existence, now receives short shrift in Western education, especially as regards the voices of autonomous Southern Christianity. That Southern Christianity gives a new perspective on something very familiar: the way that the newer churches read the Bible, which makes Christianity look like a wholly different religion from the faith of the prosperous advanced societies of Europe or North America.
The Revelation follows a threefold division.
The first part comprises the seven exhortatory letters.
The leading idea in the second part is the wisdom of Christ. It is symbolized by the book with seven seals. In it are written the eternal decrees of God touching the end of the world, and the final victory of good over evil. No one except Jesus, the lamb slain for the sins of the world, is worthy to break the seals and read its contents.
The third part describes the power of Christ over Satan and his kingdom. The lamb defeats the dragon and the beast. This idea is developed in a drama of five acts. In five successive scenes we see before us the struggle, the fall of Babylon the harlot, the victory, and final beatitude.
The Book of Revelation is full of symbolism. Some of the symbols are outlined here together with their possible interpretation, both contemporary and eternal:
THE SERVANTS OF GOD
THE PREGNANT WOMAN – possibly representing God’s chosen people, both Jew and Christian; possibly the mother of the Messiah and the Church
JESUS CHRIST, THE MESSIAH – possibly the male child born to the pregnant woman. Also THE LAMB and THE RIDER ON THE WHITE HORSE (but not the rider of Revelation 6:2, one of the four Horsemen of the Apocalypse)
THE CHURCH OF CHRIST; also THE BRIDE
ARCHANGEL MICHAEL – the Protector or guardian angel of Israel (Daniel 10:13,21; 12:1)
THE SAINTS – God’s people, Christians, the saved
POWERS OPPOSED TO GOD
THE DEVIL or SATAN – possibly the Star fallen from heaven, the Angel or star of the Pit, Angel of the Abyss; personified as “Abaddon” (destruction) in Hebrew or “Apollyon” in Greek.
Also THE DRAGON, the red dragon, the primeval Serpent who is called the devil or Satan, the Adversary, the Accuser
HELL or THE GRAVE – the fathomless pit, the Abyss, “Sheol” or “Abaddon” (destruction) in Hebrew, “Hades” or “Apollyon” from the Greek; the place of the dead, where fallen angels are imprisoned, eternal separation from God
DEMONS, EVIL SPIRITS – the locusts or scorpion locusts (Contemporary translation – the Parthian Empire across the River Euphrates, major threat to the Roman Empire)
THE ANIMAL FROM THE SEA – the Beast from the Sea, an anti-God power, an authoritarian godless state (Contemporary translation – the Roman Empire)
THE PROSTITUTE OR HARLOT; also “BABYLON”, THE WOMAN ( Contemporary translation – the city of Rome, eternally – the centre or centres of any world power)
THE ANIMAL FROM THE EARTH – the Beast from the Earth, an anti-god power, state-sanctioned, state-dominated religion ( “high priests” )
A NOTE ON TIMES
“TIME, TIMES AND HALF A TIME” – “one year, two years and half a year” from Daniel 7:25, the 3 1/2 year period 168-165BC when the Jerusalem Temple was desecrated.