Wednesday, June 29, 2011
The Book of Revelation: Does It Predict the End of the World?
Today, we are having a guest blogger: Sister Leslie!
Thanks for the introduction Sr. Monica, I’m a first year Novice and one of the things we do in Novitiate is take classes that help to enhance our knowledge of God. This June we were fortunate to be able to take a class about the book of Revelation called “Approaching the Apocalypse: The Book of Revelation from the First Century to the Twenty-First.” Fr. Jean-Pierre Ruiz taught the class and even though we only had one week I am sure that everyone in the class learned a lot about the book of Revelation. Studying the scriptures is important because as St. Jerome said, “To be ignorant of the scriptures is to be ignorant of Christ.”
The book of Revelation is possibly the most challenging and mysterious books of the Bible. The Apocalypse (Greek for Revelation) is widely misunderstood especially in American culture. Some people use it to inspire fear in others and often people react to the Apocalypse in a rash manner, they might stop educating their children, stop going to work, or buy an R.V. with an expensive paint job.
This is really understandable and it is an easy mistake to make when the book of Revelation is taken literally and the surrounding culture encourages this rash apocalyptic thinking. The name of this theory is Dispensationalist Pre-millenarianism. An easy mistake to make, really, if one has not been taught exegesis (analysis of Biblical texts). This mistake comes from collapsing the world in front of the text and the world behind the text, basically acting as if Revelation was written in the 21st Century instead of the 1st Century.
In order to effectively understand Revelation and really any text we must understand the world behind the text (the historic time period in which it was written), the world of the text (the literary elements used in the writing of the text), and the world in front of the text (our present time). These should not be collapsed together but understood separately. The world behind the text allows us to read the text as a window into that time period. The world within the text allows us to see John’s use of metaphors that are not meant to be taken literally. The world in front of the text allows us to read the text as a mirror and see what God’s word means for us in this time. When this method of reading a text is applied to the book of Revelation, it is transformed from a scary text with a foreboding message of doom to a beautiful message of hope.
First, let us remember that this was written by a guy named John (not John the Apostle) on the island of Patmos (that is where he lived and he might not have been exiled) in about 96 CE/AD (whatever your preference) during a time of oppression. At the time an imperial cult had formed in the Roman Empire. Basically worship of the Emperor and the Empire became a major part of society. In fact, economic prosperity and almost all social interactions depended on participation in the imperial cult. So, in John’s time in order for Christians to participate in society they must participate in idolatry. A large part of John’s message is imploring Christians not to participate in society and to worship only God. He is encouraging the churches of Smyrna and of Philadelphia but he is chastising the other five churches for various faults; lack of love, trusting in their wealth, taking part in idolatry, and so on. John is asking these Christians to do a hard thing and give up all prosperity for God.
Next, it is important to know that the Roman Empire at the time tried to paint itself in a beautiful light, as the great bringers of peace, Pax Romana. John uses metaphorical language to describe the relationship between the Empire and its people. John uses the Empires imagery, ideology, iconography, and mythology against it. He was exposing the Empire as its true self and showing that its Pax was really forced control. The true victor is the “victim” of the Empire the Slain Lamb, Jesus Christ.
Most importantly (in my opinion) one of the purposes of the book of Revelation is to provide a bridge between Heavenly Liturgy and Earthly Liturgy. In the act of our worship of Christ on Earth we are connected to the worship that takes place in Heaven read the book of Revelation closely and hopefully you will see this connection. Through our worship we become free and within the context of our worship we come to the “New Jerusalem”. Worship is not just taking part in ceremonies and participating in prayer, worship is every act in which we are aware of the presence of God, anytime that we are acting out of love and conducting ourselves as Christians we are worshiping God.
The message the book of Revelation gives me is that I should worship Jesus Christ our Lord in everything that I think, say, and do. Through that worship I will bring Christ into the world and I am connected to the “New Jerusalem”. Also, no matter what the consequences I should proclaim through my words and actions the truth that Jesus Christ is Lord along with everything that statement implies. If injustice crosses my path I should not participate in it and I should work against it. Sometimes societies are unjust and then as a Christian I should not participate in that aspect of society. Live a Christian life in word and deed. God is not scary. Be not afraid.
Perspective of each individual reader effects interpretation of every text. What is your perception of the book of Revelation?