The word “revelation” means “unveiling”.
Many of us know that the book of Revelation is the last book of the Bible. But what many of us tend to forget or overlook is that it is a book of signs or symbols. (Revelation 1:1)
The book is about the end of the old era and the beginning of the new age.
The Bible began with Genesis about the beginning of light and darkness.
The Bible ended with Revelation about our return to light.
I believe the Bible is all about our inner journey of how we all came to resurface from the darkness of ignorance to the light of our union with God and with one another as one united humanity. It is the light of our true identity of love and innocence.
Even today, we are the living trees bearing fruit unceasingly and our leaves are for the healing of the nations. (Revelation 22:2)
We are living in the new heavens and new earth, where all things have been made new. God is dwelling with us, in us, as us, around us. (Revelation 21)
Christ is unveiled in each of us, showing our divinity within our humanity. There is no more illusion of separation.
“We are here to awaken from the illusion of separation.” – Thich Nhat Hanh
So that is the prelude to an important topic I am going to discuss today, which is “eschatology”.
What is eschatology?
Eschatology, as I have been learning over the past year or so, is a biblical study of the “end times”. In the context of the first century in which Jesus ministered to Israel on earth, the end times is actually referring to the end of the Jewish old covenant age, not the end of the physical earth.
In my journey of faith, I was taught in institutional church that we are living in the “end times”, and one day Jesus will come back and judge the world. According to them, the “christians” will be “raptured” or taken up into outer space, sorry, I mean heaven, and be with Jesus, and they live happily ever after.
I learnt that this view of eschatology is called “dispensationalism” or “futurism”, which is popularly held by many people in the evangelical christian circles. They believe that the physical nation of Israel we have today is the place where there would be an Armageddon taking place in future, which would herald “the second coming of Christ” who would slay all the nations attacking Israel. The belief system is widely known as “Christian Zionism”.
Sounds like a futuristic action and adventure movie, eh? Maybe Hollywood and the like know many people are drawn to such dramatic stories, and decided to make movies like “2012”, “The Apocalypse” and the “Left Behind” series. It is big money business for both the organised religion and the film industry.
About a couple of years ago, I came to know about another view of eschatology, known as “preterism”, which means “past”. Before I continue to talk about preterism, some people at this point may question “Why bother about eschatology? Does it really matter? After all, we are here to spread the gospel and leave it to God to call the shots about when His Son will return to earth. Jesus said no one knows the day and hour, except His Father, right?”
My reply is that it does matter what you believe about eschatology because it will affect the decisions you make in your life. Besides, if you believe Jesus is coming back physically soon, you will probably live in fear for those people whom you think are not “saved”. Some people may even secretly hope that other people (whom they call “the people of the world” or “anti-Christ”) who disagree with their belief system will suffer the “tribulation” as part of their “retribution” when Jesus comes back.
What is preterism?
As mentioned earlier, preterism means “past”. So, a preterist would look back into the past and investigate whether a biblical prophecy has already been fulfilled. Many preterists believe that the time of Jesus’ second coming (“parousia” in the Greek) was AD70 when the temple of Jerusalem was destroyed by the Roman army. This signified the end of the Jewish old covenant age and the beginning of the new covenant age. “In that He says, ‘A new covenant’, He has made the first obsolete.
“Now what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.” (Hebrews 8:13, commonly thought to be written around AD64)
Andrew Corbett, the author of the book “The Most Embarrassing Book in the Bible“, wrote “Preterists argue that the contents of Revelation need to be viewed from the context of the original recipients with consideration then given to how it can be applied to readers of any era.” This is what we call “audience relevance”. Was Revelation written to the people in the first century or to people living some 2,000 years later?
Audience relevance and historical context
It is interesting to note the following phrases from the book of Revelations that imply immediacy and imminence, evoking a sense of urgency and expectancy of things to happen within the lifetime of the writer and his audience:
“things which must shortly take place” (Revelations 1:1)
“for the time is near” (Revelation 1:3)
“I will come to you quickly” (Revelation 2:5)
“Behold, I am coming quickly” (Revelation 3:11)
“he knows that he has a short time” (Revelation 12:12)
“show His servants the things which must shortly take place” (Revelation 22:6)
“Do not seal the words of the prophecy of this book, for the time is at hand” (Revelation 22:10)
“Surely I am coming quickly” (Revelation 22:20)
So, what do the phrases “shortly”, “time is near”, “quickly” and “at hand” mean in the context of the writing of the book of Revelation? Does it mean 2,000 years later after the writer John had died long ago? Or does it mean those things would happen within his lifetime in the first century AD? Let’s apply some intellectual honesty here, shall we?
Jewish symbolism in the book of Revelation
It is interesting to note that some people are willing to point out that the “lamb with seven horns and seven eyes” is symbolic, but at the same time claim that the “lake of fire” is literal. Why not be consistent in applying the same kind of interpretation?
While I don’t claim to understand all the signs and symbols in the book of Revelation, I choose to abide with the understanding that these are signs and symbols that pertain to the Jewish audience in the first century AD context. Those who have studied the book of Revelation and researched the history of Jewish war have written books to share their findings. Andrew Corbett, for example, pointed out that the “hail and fire… thrown to the earth” (Revelation 8:7) is actually referring to the fiery bombs that the Romans used to hurl at the sieged city of Jerusalem with the help of catapults, which took place in 66-70AD.
Who is the beast?
This is a popular question among today’s evangelical christians. Speculations about the identity of the beast tend to revolve around contemporary people such as Adolf Hitler and some US or Soviet presidents. Many people also came up with theories about microchips as “the mark of the beast”. But if we were to stick to the first century context, we see that the “beast” was referring to the Roman Emperor Caesar Nero.
“the cryptic number 666 (Revelation 13:18) designates Nero. The number involves the use of gemetria (assigning numerical values to letters of the alphabet and this determining the numerical value of words). Nero Caesar written in Hebrew letters has the numerical value of 666.” – J. Steward Russell , author of “The Parousia“
What about the harlot and the beast?
Is the harlot the “Roman catholic church”, as suggested by some evangelical christians? Again, let us apply audience relevance and historical context. Corbett wrote “Jerusalem, the Harlot, is shown to be guilty of the unjust deaths of Christ’s witnesses, and even to be in league with Rome in its attempts to eradicate Christians.” (Revelation 17:6)
Ok, tell me about the devil and the lake of fire then. I want him dead, burnt and fried in the lake of fire because he is responsible for all the evils!
This seems to be a common sentiment held by many mainstream christians. They feel that the devil should get his just desserts because preachers have been telling them the same thing. I used to think so, until I learn to see both the devil and the lake of fire as symbolic too. After all, let’s be consistent and recognise the Book of Revelations is all about signs or symbols.
Bottomline: Is God a tyrant to assign “hell” for people such as sinners and unbelievers? Or was God destroying the false identity of Adam in order to create the new identity of Christ in everyone?
Recently, someone wrote a note, which goes something like: “If you find that you are more compassionate than the God you believe in, it is time to check your own doctrine.” I think that makes sense. How is it possible that mere human beings who are imperfect can be more loving, more compassionate, more merciful and more gracious than God who is supposed to be perfect? Something is certainly terribly wrong with the hell doctrine that says God reserves eternal punishment for those who don’t know or don’t believe in Him. It doesn’t add up to the concept of God as a perfect Father who is all loving and who tells people to forgive their enemies.
To me, only a metaphysical view of God would answer questions satisfactorily for me, to see certain religious concepts as pertaining to Jewish symbolism and historical context. Terms such as sin, Satan, judgment, lake of fire are all outdated terms that only applied to the Jewish religious mindset before their religious system came to an end in AD70. To me, God is already all and is in all, right here and now, and we are all divine beings on a human journey, expressing love and healing to one another.
The book of Revelation and eschatology is such a deep subject that I think I have only covered the tip of the iceberg. There seems so much to study and share, and so little time. I have to be selective in what I share in this post. More to come in future, hopefully. 🙂
- Revelation: The Way it Happened (A Review) (davehershey.wordpress.com)
- The Song of The Lamb #4 Methods of Interpretation (christadelphians.wordpress.com)
- “Understand the Book of Revelation, at Last…” Written by Dr Andrew Corbett, President of ICI Theological College Australia