Short Reflection about Apocalyptic Writing

Br. Vince J. Celeste, FMS

Starting from a very different idea about the Book of Apocalypses, it would be difficult for me to change my paradigm a little bit. When I was a little kid, all I knew was a literal translations of terms used in this Book. And sad to say, my parents knew it that way, too. The understanding was from my own perspective or at least from the perspective of the people who didn’t experience the situations of the people of the time when the Book was written.

But what is Apocalyptic writing? The book of Apocalypses was written around 95 c.e. By a person named John of Patmos. During that time the early Christians were experiencing persecutions by Domitian and also from the Jewish hostility like excommunication from synagogues; by driving them away. Public suspicions, imprisonment and executions were experienced also at that time. The author of the Book tried to reassure the early Christians of their faith in Jesus Christ, that the end of time is coming very soon, but nobody knows when it will happens. It reaffirms the Christians’ hope for an immediate transformation of the world, and this is one of the Book’s theme. And yet, the book is also presented in such a way that it is full of symbols and metaphors and that what made it “apocalyptic writing.”

End of time or the “eschatological” beliefs of early Christians is badly interpreted as giving exact dates or years by modern interpreters of the Book of Revelation. And yet the message of the writing should not be contradicted with Jesus’ words that the end of time is not revealed to anybody (Matt 24:36) except that the author conveys the the end of time is “now.” Meaning, the apocalyptic writing is not only intended for the early Christians but to all the people of the world at all time. “Of all times,” means, “now.”

Apocalyptic writing comes to us with a meaning, “revealing” or “unveiling.” It reveals God’s truth, the course of human life and our spiritual life. God’s judgment comes to us as the final confrontation between the forces of evil and the forces of good. And that in the end, we are assured of the victory being won by Christ at the cross.

1 comment for “Short Reflection about Apocalyptic Writing

  1. terryb
    December 16, 2011 at 6:09 am

    Yes, there has probably been no other New Testament document misused over the centuries than Revelation. This has happened because the scriptural genre of apocalyptic writing (the Book of Daniel in the Old Testament is similar) has been completely misunderstood. Mistakenly, it has been taken as a timetable for God’s intervention in our sinful world. Nothing could be further from the truth, because as Jesus taught us, this is information known only by the Father. The other mistake is to regard Revelation as dealing only with the future. On the contrary its purpose is to remind us that in spite of the evil we see around us that God is very much in charge already in the present, as well as to reassure us of God’s total victory over evil and its elimination in the future. Many people are put off by the often grotesque and frightening images used to convey the truth that God reigns both now and in the future. Sometimes we see strange imagery being used even today in political cartoons to get a message of great political or social importance over effectively. Of course there were no mass circulation newspapers or magazines around when John of Patmos wrote his Book of Revelation. It might be helpful to regard the vivid and often grotesque images as serving the same purpose as cartoons do today. This was to remind his fellow persecuted Christians that in spite of outward appearances suggesting that evil was winning, the invincible truth is that God reigns now in the present and that evil will finally be totally conquered and eliminated by God in the future. God’s victory is absolutely certain and is already celebrated by the persecuted Christian communities.

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