Book of Revelation

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For more information, see the Skeptic's Annotated Bible article:
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Books of the Bible

The Book of the Revelation of John is the last book in the Bible. It was written by John of Patmos, traditionally thought to be John the Evangelist in exile on the island of Patmos, Greece. It describes the apocalypse.

Revelation is famous for being full of symbolism, most of which is incredibly vague. The European Union, for example, could legitimately be described as a sign of the end times, as could FIFA, global warming or literally any election.

Example Prophecies

Interpretation of John's Revelation

It must be understood that the Apocalypse of John is part of a genre of literature in the Ancient world known as Apocalyptic. Similar apocalyptic works within the bible are texts such as Zechariah and Ezekiel. This genre has such features as Fantastic Imagery, Symbolic Numbers, it is Prophetic in that it is forth telling and foretelling and this specific apocalypse is also epistolary, it is of course written to the seven churches of Asia Minor as the text suggests throughout. Because of this final detail, the figurative language within the text must be read in context of the churches to which this was written. The "issues" people in the 21st century see with the text would be "non-issues" to a 1st century audience who would understand all the symbolism. An excellent example is the image of 666.

In the 1st century world to which this apocalypse was written, a common practice was called "gemetria." This was the practice of associating numbers to letters to create names. Thus referring to someone by a number was not uncommon because the number spelled out their name. There are Christians in the 21st century who do not understand apocalyptic literature and thus associate 666 as the number of the Anti-Christ (singular). However, this is in conflict with 1 John 2:18 that says there are and will be many anti-Christs (plural). The two cannot be true; this calls for deeper interpretation of Revelation. However, even John says in Revelation 13:18 that "this calls for wisdom: let anyone with understanding calculate the number of the beast." The people to whom this was written would obviously understand gemetria and follow the command to calculate the name of the beast. The majority of Scholarship believe that the author was a Jew thus it is necessary to do the gemetria in Aramaic. This is how it pans out...

n = nun = 50
r = resh = 200
w = waw = 6
n = nun = 50
q = qoph = 100
s = samech = 60
r = resh = 200
= 666

This spells out "nrwnqsr" (Nero Caesar). Revelation doesn't give this gargantuan fear of an Anti-Christ coming because there are many Anti-Christs among us (1 John 2:18). Rather, if this text is interpreted as an epistolary apocalyptic, thus written to a certain people at a certain time in a certain situation, it can be seen that the Anti-Christ here is Nero Caesar, which holds very well with Nero and Domitian's persecution (many thought that Domitian was Nero resurrected). With this example it is seen that Revelation must be properly interpreted, it cannot be taken at face value.

Bibliography/Further Reading

D.E. Aune, "Revelation," 3 vols. (WBC; Waco, TX: Word, 1997, 1998)
R. Bauckham, “Nero and the Beast” in 'The Climax of Prophecy: Studies on the Book of Revelation' (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1993)
W. Ramsey, "Letters to the Seven Churches" (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1904)
R.M. Price, "The Paperback Apocalypse: How the Christian Church Was Left Behind" (Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 2007)
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