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Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Meaning of The Book of Revelation

Part 1- John’s Vision

The author of Revelation, John of Patmos, wrote the book in an ecstatic trance.  A divine being announces what is going to happen to bring on the end of time.  He believes the divine being is Jesus.  Jesus announces that God will make war on the evil powers that have taken over the world.
John sees a slaughtered lamb next to the throne of God.  Angels sound trumpets and the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse burst forth-one on a white, one on a red, one on a black, and one on a pale horse.  They bring death by sword, plague, and wild animals.
John then sees four angels standing at the four corners of the earth and placing seals on the foreheads of 144,000 men, the elite troop among God’s people- twelve thousand from each of Israel’s tribe.
John sees a fallen star fall from heaven, a being who “opens the shaft of the bottomless pit, from which giant locusts with human faces.  In heaven two signs appear in the sky: a woman pregnant cries out in labor about to give birth to a son- God’s messiah-  while a red dragon with seven heads paces in front of her, waiting to devour the infant.  The woman escapes, her child is caught up into heaven, and war breaks out in heaven.
The archangel Michael and his angels fight the dragon and his angels- they are thrown out of heaven and fall to earth.  The dragon, enraged, makes war on the woman and upon all her children who remain of earth.
The dragon calls forth two huge beasts as his allies.  One with seven heads and ten horns rises out of the sea.  The second makes the earth and its inhabitants worship the first beast, and cause all those who do not worship the image of the beast to be killed.
As the cosmic war intensifies, John sees seven angels in heaven pour out upon earth a golden bowl of God’s wrath.
When the battle reaches its climax, Jesus appears as a divine warrior on a white horse to lead armies of angels into war.  Satan is thrown into a pit, the dragon chained, the beasts thrown into a lake of fire-while all humans remaining faithful to God come back to life and reign over the earth for a thousand years.  Then Jesus judges the whole world, and all those whom have worshipped other gods, committed murder, or illicit sexual acts are thrown into the lake of fire forever.  God’s faithful are invited to enter a new Jerusalem that descents from heaven and where Christ and his people reign for 1,000 years.

Part 2- War in Jerusalem 66 ce.

John probably witnessed the outbreak of war in Jerusalem in 66 ce.  Rome sent 60,000 troops to besiege Jerusalem, starve its inhabitants, and break the revolutionaries resistance.  Roman soldiers desecrated the Great Temple and burned it to the ground and left the inner city of Jerusalem in ruins.
John was probably forcibly sent to the island of Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ.  He probably pleaded for God’s justice in his own anguish of the war.
John’s Book of Revelation then, vividly evokes the horror of the Jewish war against Rome.  He invokes the language of the classical prophets, who also sought to assure their people that what happens on earth in neither random nor meaningless, and that the moral complexity of the present world will be sorted out when divine justice sets everything straight and punishes evil.
By shifting scenes from earth to heaven and back, John intends to show how events on earth look from God’s perspective.  Because John offers his Revelation in the language of dreams and nightmares, language that is multivalent, countless people for thousands of years have been able to see their own conflicts, fears, and hopes reflected in his prophecies.  This battle continues to play itself out as those who continue to “follow the beast” and to those who flirt with “the whore” called Babylon.

Part 3- Decoding Revelation

*The sacrificial lamb- Jesus was slaughtered on the eve of Passover like a sacrificial lamb.
*The first horseman signifies war.
*The second horseman was permitted to take peace from earth, so that people would slaughter one another.
*The third horseman signifies hugely inflated prices for food- he carries a token (money).
The fourth horseman is Death. He brings plaques, famine, and wild animals.
*Dragon- Forces of evil.
*A woman birthing a child-Israel as a woman laboring in childbirth. The birthplace of Jesus Christ.  This leads up to the struggles that himself and followers of Jesus now face.
*Great red dragon with seven heads and ten horns- The Roman forces that killed Jesus.
*Caught up in heaven- Jesus escapes death while his mother fled into the wilderness.

The sun became black, the moon became like blood, and the stars fell to the earth, as the fig tree drops its fruit when shaken by a storm, until “the rulers of the earth, and the great men, rich and powerful, and everyone, slaves and free hid in caves, for the great day of God’s wrath has come.”  Some will be able to stand, since God sends four angels to protect the sea, earth, and trees, and certain people. An angel explains, “We have marked the slaves of God with a seal on their foreheads”, first 144,000 men-12,000 from each of the twelve tribes of Israel.

Reference~Revelations by Elaine Pagels