(This is the fourth installment of a 30-day series in which I’m sharing thoughts about the weird and baffling world of the Bible’s Book of Revelation, with today’s post being a string of thoughts about “Apocalypse.”)
Run for shelter! Run for shade! The Apocalypse is now!
The Apocalypse–coming soon to a theater near you complete with sensational fireballs (and starring the apocalyptic Donald Trump as the Four Horsemen)–is everywhere in popular culture. It’s in movies, books, TV, the news, and of course in the sensational but faulty preaching of the prophets of doom who would have us believe God for some reason is going to blow up God’s own creation, which he saw in Genesis as being so “good.”
It’s what I call a biblical “pinch word.” The very sight or sound of the word “Apocalypse” makes me feel like I’ve been pinched in my very heart and soul. It’s a far cry from what I call biblical “grace words” like love, mercy, joy, kindness, compassion or the word “grace” itself.
Most of us turn to the Bible looking for comfort and hope and “Apocalypse” has a way of making us feel anything but comfortable or hopeful about a world that seems to always be on fire.
But it’s a word that’s always looming in the culture, so let’s break it down some.
And we can start by opening our Bibles and reviewing all the references to “Apocalypse” in scriptures.
This project won’t take up much of your Saturday leisure time, since the word “Apocalypse” is nowhere to be found in the Bible.
And yet Revelation and other books like Daniel and scattered scriptures are shot-through with apocalyptic language, signs and symbols. Even Jesus used a lot of apocalyptic language and word pictures.
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Let’s start at the start with Revelation 1:1-2 which says:
“The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place; he made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, who testified to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw.”
Revelation comes from the Greek word, apokálypsis, which means to “reveal” or “unveil” that which is hidden. We see from the first sentence of the book that Jesus “revealed” or unveiled a message to John through an angel, one of those “ministering spirits” that commonly delivered messages to biblical characters.
The revelation to John was a vision of heavenly secrets aimed at making sense of the oppressive and insufferable earthly realities Christians faced under Roman rule.
* * * *
So why did Jesus reveal this message?
Once more for the record: the message that John passed on to the churches and believers in Asia Minor was meant to be a message of encouragement, a reminder of the need to keep the faith and hang on to hope.
But … that’s not to say that the words of the message to the churches and Christians were fit for a high-school football pep rally. John’s vision begins with “a spiritual report card” of sorts, in which Jesus judges and grades Asia’s seven church communities on their faithfulness, patience, endurance, love and more.
And not every church got a good grade, as we’ll see in tomorrow’s post.
Apocalypse does have darker meanings, of course. Merriam-Webster defines the even the “revealing” aspect of it this way:
“one of the Jewish and Christian writings of 200 b.c. to a.d. 150 marked by pseudonymity, symbolic imagery, and the expectation of an imminent cosmic cataclysm in which God destroys the ruling powers of evil and raises the righteous to life in a messianic kingdom”
It goes on to describe apocalypse as “a great disaster, a sudden and very bad event that “causes much fear, loss, or destruction.”
It’s that meaning from which so many sensationalized books, movies, TV shows and preachings and teachings are based–and often on faulty theology or disastrously bad interpretations of the Book of Revelation and other books of the Bible.
Sensational entertainment is stimulating and easy to take in.
What’s not so easy to do in the Christian walk is to be critically self aware–toth in our individual lives and our collective life as a nation that likes to think of itself as “Christian.”
Being self aware as followers of Christ demands that we think through the ways we’re complicit in creating disasters–apocalypses–for other people every day. Disasters such as war, poverty, injustice and inequality, pollution and so much more.
Remember our “shock and awe” bombing campaign that was aimed at blowing up Saddam Hussein?
Consider all the personal “apocalypses” our American bombs caused in the lives of so many innocent men, women and children in Baghdad. Watching the bombing on TV became a form of national entertainment.
For the innocents on the ground, it was a fiery, apocalyptic disaster.
And Saddam Hussein survived it without a scratch.
This probably won’t win me any popularity contest with a lot of readers, but I’m going to say it:
Sometimes our own beloved America looks a lot like the brutal Roman Empire of old.
We who purport to be Christian would do well to ask God’s forgiveness of our individual sins but also our powerful nation’s sins every day in our prayer and reflection time.
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Revelation in no way suggests that “the end the world is near.” Nor does it imply that we can escape into endlessly entertaining ourselves because we believe God is going to be in control and everything is going to turn out all right without our participation with God.
Revelation does say that we are being delivered by God into glory, but that doesn’t mean we are to go to church once a week and sit in our easy chairs watching in all our “down time” from our jobs and businesses watching the world blow up while we sip our wine and think to ourselves “ain’t it a shame there’s so much suffering.”
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To sum up:
In terms of the Christian Bible, what some call “Apocalypticism” is the belief that God has revealed the imminent end of the ongoing struggle between good and evil in history.
Remember that in Rev.1: it says that Jesus revealed knowledge to John in order for John to “show his servants” in seven Asian churches “what must take place.”
For Christians whose allegiance was to God and not the Emperor god, horrible things could, and did, take place. But John conveyed to his “servants” in the seven faith communities that God is acting in history, redeeming our suffering and remaining faithful to believers.
The servants John was writing to were to act accordingly, to remain faithful in the revealed knowledge that God still had the faith communities and the world in God’s hands.
So the fourth takeaway from Revelation is just that:
4. That as hard is it may be for us to believe with all the disastrous events occurring around the world–and with all the disastrous “apocalypses” of deaths or diseases or divorces or hardships that inevitably occur in our own private lives–we the faithful have the hopeful assurance that “He’s got the whole world in His hands.”