Thoughts on Revelation

Just finished re-reading The Book of Revelation this morning.  This is one book I may never be able to analyze or understand satisfactorily; much of it still confuses me.  Still, I wanted to share some memories, literary references, and thoughts about Revelation, since it may be some time before I read it again.

First, a note on the edition.  For this re-reading of the Bible, I've chosen the New King James translation in single-column format.  I grew up with the NIV and KJV, and I was curious about the NKJV.  Compared to the KJV, I've noticed not many, but some, differences.  Translation is a topic on its own; so far, though, I can say I've had a good experience reading this one.


Flashback #1 - "Revelations"

I don't know why, but since childhood, I thought the book was called Revelations, plural.  It appears this is a common misconception, according to Wikipedia.  Other titles mentioned on Wikipedia are:
  • The Revelation to John
  • The Apocalypse of John
  • The Revelation of Jesus Christ (from its opening words)
  • The Apocalypse
In my Cambridge KJV bible, it's called The Revelation of St. John the Divine.  In the NKJV, it's Revelation of Jesus Christ.

I'm afraid verse 1 must have gone over my head in the past, because, due to the NKJV's title, this is the first time it sunk in: "The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show His servants..."  Revelation is not only about Jesus, but it's from Jesus.  This is further emphasized by the beginning of the vision, in which Jesus dictates to John His letters to seven churches.

Out of habit, I think of the Ascension as containing Jesus' last words to us before the Second Coming, but it would be more accurate to say Revelation contains those words.

Flashback #2 - "Boring"

During my teen years, I had a Christian friend whom I would sometimes chat with over Skype.  (I think he actually wanted to be my boyfriend, but, being rather naive, I didn't realize it at the time.)

I was reading Revelation one week (probably the last time I read it before this year), and I mentioned it to him.  He replied with a message calling it "boring."

To this day, I have no idea whether he was being serious, facetious, or ironic. I'd like to think ironic, because personally I've never found this book to be boring (far from it!).

Lord of the Flies

In the NKJV version, chapter 13 was given the subject heading "The Beast from the Sea and the Beast from the Land."  I couldn't help but be reminded of the chapter titles from Lord of the Flies called "Beast from Air" and "Beast from Water."

The main comparison to be drawn between the Beasts of William Golding's novel and the Beasts of Revelation is that, while the former are psychological and the latter are physical, they both use terror and deception to gain control of people, eventually taking over their lives.  I don't know if this was intentional on Golding's part (for one thing, his novel predates the NKJV translation), but this would not be the only biblical theme in Lord of the Flies.

Lord of the Rings

Another part of the book which jumped out to me was chapter 17, verses 12–13.
The ten horns which you saw are ten kings who have received no kingdom as yet, but they receive authority for one hour as kings with the beast. 13 These are of one mind, and they will give their power and authority to the beast. 14 These will make war with the Lamb, and the Lamb will overcome them, for He is Lord of lords and King of kings; and those who are with Him are called, chosen, and faithful.”

I thought immediately of The Lord of the Rings, in which Tolkien describes "Nine [rings] for Mortal Men, doomed to die" because their rings of power made them slaves to the Dark Lord's One Ring.  Tolkien was Catholic; I wonder if the parallel was intentional?

The White Horse

Towards the end of Revelation, there's a beautiful scene of triumph in chapter 19:
11 Now I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse. And He who sat on him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and makes war. 12 His eyes were like a flame of fire, and on His head were many crowns. He had a name written that no one knew except Himself. 13 He was clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God. 14 And the armies in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, followed Him on white horses.
Electronica artist Adam Young (my favorite musician of all time) references his Christian faith many times in his 2011 Owl City album All Things Bright and Beautiful.  In the lyrics to "Kamikaze," what may be his most cryptic and strangely titled song, Adam includes this same scene from Revelation:
My captain on the snowy horse
Is coming back to take me home
He'll find me fighting back the terrible force
'Cause I'm not afraid to die alone

Cowards and Liars

In Revelation, there are encouragements to hold fast to one's faith, and there are also warnings.  This is from chapter 21, verses 7–8:
"He who overcomes shall inherit all things, and I will be his God and he shall be My son. But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.”
It's sobering to think that cowards and liars are counted among murderers and idolaters.  But it's reminiscent of Jesus' statement that those who are ashamed of Him, He will in turn be ashamed of before God (Mark 8:34–38).  Also, cowardice and lies are sometimes the root of betrayal and other kinds of crimes.

Forgiveness

Good Friday, the memorial of Jesus' sacrifice, is just a few days away.

One of the most tense and heartbreaking parts of the Bible is when Peter, having been previously warned by Jesus he would deny Him (and protesting he would not), does just that, not once but three times.  He does this in the presence of Jesus, in the high priest's courtyard where He was being held.  At the third denial, Jesus looks at Peter.  (As a child, I was most familiar with this part in the Jesus film (1979) - it really stuck with me.)
 
Peter is horrified by what he's done and leaves, in grief.  His repentance is sincere, and Jesus forgives him.  When they are reunited after the Resurrection, there is no further mention of what happened.

Peter is one of the most relatable New Testament figures - emotional, earnest, and imperfect. His story is like the journey every Christian takes, and it gives me hope because it means there is forgiveness even for cowards who repent.


Comments

  1. Revelation is one of my favorite books of the Bible. It is both terrifying and rewarding. Christians know they do not have to be afraid, but it is still a visual of God's power and wrath.

    Isn't it wonderful to pull literature out from the text of Revelation? or maybe it's the other way around: you can find images of Scripture in literature.

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    1. Yes...it makes me wonder how many references to it I've missed in the past!

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  2. Great thoughts, Marian, and worth pondering. It always fascinated me that with the ambiguity throughout Revelation, that it was included in the Bible. It's so different from the rest but adds a value that we perhaps can't fully see. Again, excellent post!

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    1. It really is ambiguous, even though the style is straightforward and relatively simplistic. I can readily understand why people struggle(d) with it, most famously Luther.

      I was left with the perennial question why it was given to us the way it was, when so many Christians can't even agree if parts of it have taken place in the past or are yet to come. Personally I think most or all of it is set in the future. I'm still confused by the ending, and have to trust that I have all the information I really *need* to know.

      Thanks, Cleo!

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    2. When I took my Introduction to the New Testament university class, it was posited that the people of that time thought the end times were just around the corner. I take its tone of immediacy in that light. I believe the allegories (is that the correct word?) could relate to things familiar to the people of that time, but of course they've also been stretched to include modern times. I'm going to just leave it to God. One day we'll know, right? :-)

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  3. Great post. Parts of this book will always be baffling. As a child I remember finding it terrifying. I guess that I was not alone as popular culture, from horror films to Rock songs is full of references to Revelation.

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    1. I'm afraid one of my childhood quirks was a penchant for monster stories, so I wasn't as scared as I should have been. :/ That said, the locusts with faces have always freaked me out!

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  4. As Ruth said, the book of Revelation is one of my favorites too. The book's a prophecy of warming and of hope. In fact, the opening passage contains a blessing to everyone who reads, hears, and keeps the words of this prophecy:
    "Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near." Revelation 1:3
    You shall be blessed Marian, have a nice weekend.

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    1. You're right...we can't lose sight of the overall message, which is a joyful one. Thanks for the reminder, and I hope you have a great weekend, too!

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  5. This is really interesting. Revelation has always been one of the most intimidating book of the Bible for me (and I agree, I actually always thought it was "Revelations" too...it feels like there should be more than one). I'm just finishing a devotional on the book right now, and it's really interesting because the majority of the passages in the book were actually from the Old Testament, not Revelation itself. It really helped explain the significance behind some of the difficult symbolism in the book!

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    1. It is super fascinating! I hope to re-read Isaiah later this year, and after that might return to Revelation to see some of those quotations in context.

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