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The Christian Scriptures

Understanding Revelation.
Topics covered. Jesus in Revelation.

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Understanding Revelation:

An Evangelical Christian theologian, P.N. Benware, describes three approaches that theologians have used to understand Revelation:
bulletAllegorical approach: The events in Revelation will not happen literally. They are to be interpreted figuratively and symbolically. This approach leads to a great variety of conflicting scenarios.
 
bulletHistorical approach: Most of the events in Revelation have already happened, perhaps during the persecution of Christians during the reign of Emperors Nero or Domitian before Christianity was tolerated early in the 4th century CE.
 
bulletFuturistic approach: This is the approach taken by almost all fundamentalists and other evangelical Christians. The events in Revelation have yet to occur, but are anticipated in our very near future. The end times will unfold exactly as specified when the world as we know it comes to an end. 1

To this list, a other options present themselves:

bulletMorale booster: The book was written at a time of intermittent persecutions of Christians by the Roman Empire. Its purpose may have been simply to encourage Christians at that difficult time. It is typical of apocalyptic writings common among Jewish writers during the first century BCE and both Jewish and Christian writers during the first century CE. According to James Kelhoffer, an assistant professor of theological studies at Saint Louis University:

"Many people who have interpreted the rich symbolism and mythology of [Revelation] have read into it to reflect on a world cataclysm within their lifetime. It greatly misunderstands ancient Jewish and Christian prophets who always talk about apocalypses within their own time, not several centuries hence. 2

bulletMeaningless: The book is made up of visions experienced by the author. They might have been based on one or more nightmares that the author experienced. They might have been induced by eating hallucinogenic material (mushrooms, cacti, certain types of moulds. etc.) They might have been induced during an ecstatic spiritual state. In other words, the writing may be devoid of any valid prophecy. It may be as fictional and meaningless as the images of the anti-semitic nun, St. Anne Catherine Emmerich (1774-1824), whose visions formed such a major part of the movie "The Passion of the Christ."

Topics in Revelation:

The book describes a number of "end-time events that will occur during the Day of the Lord."

P.N. Benware, in his "Survey of the New Testament," includes:
bulletthe rise of the Antichrist as a world dictator.
bulleta 40 month period of relative peace.
bulleta 40 month period of horrendous tribulation.
bulletterrible judgments by God on the supporters of the Antichrist.
bulletthe marriage of the Lamb (Jesus) and his bride (the Christian church). Presumably the rapture will have happened by this time: faithful Christians who have died will be resurrected, rise from their graves and ascend to heaven.
bulletthe second coming of Jesus.
bulletthe battle of Armageddon.
bulletthe millennium kingdom is established on earth.
bulletfinal punishment of Satan.
bulletdestruction of the old heavens and earth.
bulletunbelievers will be cast into everlasting fire.
bulletGod creates a new heaven and earth. 1

Not included in this survey, and missing from every sermon that we have heard about this topic, is a reference to Revelation 14:10. It describes how the inhabitants in Hell will be tortured in the presence of Jesus. The passage is ambiguous; it does not say whether Jesus is merely passively observing the torture, or is supervising it.

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Jesus in Revelation:

bulletConservative Christians viewpoint: Since Revelation and the remaining books in the Bible are inspired by God and free of error, then Christ is accurately described in the book, just as he is elsewhere in the Bible.  However, the book is filled with symbolism. It requires careful attention to separate the prophecies of future events from Revelation's symbolic passages.
 
bulletLiberal Christians viewpoint: The author of Revelation does not claim to have known Jesus during his earthly ministry. He is very vague about the apostles.

He appears to be unaware of the place where Jesus was executed. In Revelation 11:8-9 the author wrote:

"And the dead bodies will lie in the street of the great city that is spiritually called Sodom and Egypt, where also their Lord was crucified."

Some translations use "figuratively" in place of "spiritually." Theologian and author Tom Harpur speculates that: "... the crucifixion was in reality a spiritual transaction not rooted in any historical place whatever. The entire story is symbolic."

Harpur believes:

"...that the Christ of the Apocalypse is not the 'personal Jesus' of the Gospels but a cosmic intelligence and principle. He is the spiritual Christ of Pauline mysticism."

Harpur notes that:

"Revelation 1:13 describes the Christ as an androgynous figure with 'paps' or female breasts. Plainly, this has nothing to do with a historic Jesus or any coming events on this planet."

Harpur is apparently quoting the King James Version of Revelation. Other translations render the Greek differently. The New International Version, for example, refers simply to Jesus having "a golden sash around his chest." 3

References used  and comments:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. P.N. Benware, "Survey of the New Testament," Moody Press, Chicago IL (1990)
  2. Jen Gerson, "Today, your number is up," The Toronto Star, 2006-JUN-06, Page C1.
  3. Tom Harpur, "America obsessed with future apocalypse," The Toronto Star, 2003-OCT-5, Page F7.

Additional information:

bullet"Project Megiddo: Introduction," at Center for Studies on New Religions (CESNUR) at: http://www.cesnur.org/

Site navigation:

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Copyright © 1997 to 2009 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2009-MAY-05
Author: B.A. Robinson

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