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The Tragedy of Revelation

A useless but fun exercise is to speculate “what if” about various historical events–like what if the South had won the Civil War? Or what if Kennedy had not been assassinated?  Along those lines I’ve often wondered what the history of Christianity might have looked like if the book of Revelation had not been included in the canon.   By most accounts of the New Testament’s development, Revelation almost did not make the final cut.  Unfortunately for us, it did.  And that fact may be one of the most tragic legacies of Christianity.

With it’s bizarre imagery, cataclysmic battles, and it’s vision of a vengeful Christ pouring out his wrath on the enemies of the faith, Revelation has been a source of fascination for many believers up to the present.    When I was still working for the church, I would occasionally ask students in the weekly Bible class which book of the Bible they would like to study next.  Revelation was always the most popular choice, hands down.

Now there are a lot of incomprehensible parts of the Bible, but Revelation takes the cake.  What on earth possessed ancient church leaders to claim that that this hallucinogenic rant was divinely inspired?    And because they deemed it divine, we are still suffering the consequences today.   Many Christians are not only eagerly awaiting the fulfillment of Revelation’s visions in their lifetimes; they are actively seeking to hasten Armageddon.  When you have a free moment,  do a Google search on “Numbers 19 Red Heifer.”  I’ll be some interesting stuff comes up.  And because of Revelation, many Christians actively oppose environmentalism.  After all, if this world is headed for destruction, and there is going to be a “new heaven and a new earth”  (Revelation 21:1)  why bother taking care of this earth that’s passing away?  The sooner we trash it the better.   This was summed up well in the bumper sticker I saw recently.  It was  on the back of a behemoth SUV sporting a Christian fish sign, and it read: “Friends don’t let friends become environmentalists.”

  1. adtz
    April 25, 2012 at 12:09 am

    Don’t assume the insane wouldn’t have found *something*. I mean wasn’t Rev based on Daniel?

  2. Cristine
    April 25, 2012 at 12:18 am

    In a course I took on New Teatament literature and history in college, the Book of Revelations was not considered to be unintelligible or crazy rantings, it was simply a cryptic, a genre of writing and commentary which took the form of an extended and elaborate analogy. At the time I took this course, many biblical scholars thought it was meant as a political commentary on the state of the Roman Empire at the time of its writing.

    • April 25, 2012 at 12:41 am

      Yes, there is that whole “secret code” element to the book–like the number 666 is supposed to be a reference to Nero. Unfortunately that whole hypothesis has been lost on the Christians who see the Revelation as a detailed description of how the “End Times” will unfold. Thanks so much for taking the time to comment!

  3. Andrew
    April 27, 2012 at 2:36 am

    Revelation was always included in the western/Roman canon from the earliest times I believe. It was the Eastern Orthodox who didn’t like it and only reluctantly accepted it. It has never been read from in their lectionaries to this day.

  4. Andrew
    April 27, 2012 at 2:49 am

    Apocalyptic was an entire genre of scripture writing that goes way back. The Persians/Zoroastrians influenced Jewish scriptural tendencies and Christian writers imitated those (Daniel, Enoch, 2 Baruch, 4 Esdras, probably lots more that didn’t survive). There are Syriac and Coptic apocalypses from late antiquity.

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