The Book of Revelation, also called Revelation to John, Apocalypse of John (Pronunciation [əˈpɒkəlɨps], from the Ἀποκάλυψις Ἰωάννου, Apokálypsis Iōánnou), and Revelation of Jesus Christ is the last canonical book of the New Testament in the Christian Bible. It is the only biblical book that is wholly composed of apocalyptic literature. Other apocalypses popular in the early Christian era did not achieve canonical status, except for 2 Esdras (Apocalypse of Ezra), which is canonical in the Ethiopian Orthodox Churches.
Though now known as the Book of Revelation, the title found on some of the earliest manuscripts is "The Apocalypse of John" (Ἀποκάλυψις Ἰωάννου), and the most common title found on later manuscripts is "The Apocalypse of the theologian" (Ἀποκάλυψις τοῦ Θεολόγου). (In English, apocalypse is often rendered as revelation and the literal meaning of the Greek word is "unveiling".) The first words of the book are effectively self-titled, "The Revelation of Jesus Christ".
In the 4th century, Gregory of Nazianzus and other bishops argued against including this book in the New Testament canon, chiefly because of the difficulties of interpreting it and the danger for abuse. Christians in Syria also reject it because of the Montanists' heavy reliance on it. In the 9th century, it was included with the Apocalypse of Peter among "disputed" books in the Stichometry of St. Nicephorus, Patriarch of Constantinople. In the end it was included in the accepted canon, although it remains the only book of the New Testament that is not read within the Divine Liturgy of the Eastern Orthodox Church. See Biblical canon for details.
Artists throughout the centuries have portrayed the visions described by John.
The traditional view holds that John the Apostle—considered to have written the Gospel and epistles by the same name—was exiled on Patmos in the Aegean archipelago during the reign of Emperor Domitian, and wrote the Revelation there. Those in favor of a single common author point to similarities between the Gospel and Revelation. For example, both works are soteriological (e.g., referring to Jesus as a lamb) and possess a high Christology, stressing Jesus' divine side as opposed to the human side stressed by the Synoptic Gospels. In the Gospel of John and in Revelation, Jesus is referred to as "the Word of God" (Ὁ λόγος τοῦ Θεοῦ). Explanations of the differences between John's work by proponents of the single-author view include factoring in underlying motifs and purposes, authorial target audience, the author's collaboration with or utilization of different scribes and the advanced age of John the Apostle when he wrote Revelation. Like his Old Testament counterpart Daniel, John was kept alive to receive the prophetic vision.
A natural reading of the text would reveal that John is writing literally as he sees the vision (Rev 1:11; 10:4; 14:3; 19:9; 21:5) and that he is warned by an angel not to alter the text through a subsequent edit (Rev 22:18-19), in order to maintain the textual integrity of the book.
In the Anchor Bible volume on Revelation, J. Massynberde Ford contends that the core verses of the book, in general chapters 4 through 22, are surviving records of the prophecies of John the Baptist. For example, she notes that the images of the Lamb of God are only found in Gospel sections associated with John the Baptist, and ties other hallmarks of Revelation to what is known of the Baptist.
Some exegetes (Paul Touilleux, Albert Gelin, André Feuillet) distinguish two dates: publication (under Domitian) and date of the visions (under Vespasian). Various editors would have a hand in the formation of the document, according to these theories. The dating of the work is still widely debated in the scholarly community.
A differing view is held by Catholics and the Orthodox church. Both ascribe to the idea that the Church is the visible Kingdom and Government spoken of in Isaiah, which God set up entirely until the end of time. Their joint view of the historicity of the entire prophecy of both books (John and Revelation); and also of the prophecy contained in Matthew 23, is based upon Matthew 23:36 and Revelation 11:19-12:18. Catholics believe these verses contain information passed from Christ to John about the spiritual meaning of Mary's escape from Jerusalem and eventual Coronation in Heaven, which John originally took part in but did not understand. The narrative is considered a metaphor for the Church and its followers, showing that God will protect them.
The "whore of Babylon" and "666" are therefore often considered to be a type of apostolic code, pre-Christian Rome and Emperor Nero respectively, each referring to events that have already come to pass.
Exact interpretations of the chronology of Revelation vary extensively. The work may be interpreted literally, as a chronological list of events that will occur as the time of Revelation grows near. At the same time, the imagery can be seen to contain symbolic commentaries on the world during the historical period in which Revelation was written, or "pre-commentaries" on our world today.
These schools of thought are not mutually exclusive and many Christians adopt a combination of these approaches. The Biblical Prophecy school of thought is popular among Protestant fundamentalists and other evangelicals, as well as Rastafarians. Members of more mainline and liberal churches tend to prefer the historical-critical and aesthetic approaches. Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches have also established their own specific positions on Revelation.
Pretribulationists believe that all Christians then alive will be taken up to meet Christ before the Tribulation begins. In doing so, Christians are "kept" from the Tribulation, much as Noah was removed before God judged the antediluvian world. Midtribulationists believe that the rapture of the faithful will occur approximately halfway through the Tribulation, after it begins but before the worst part of it occurs. Some midtribulationists, particularly those holding to a "pre-wrath rapture" of the church, believe that God's wrath is poured out during a "Great Tribulation" that is limited to the last 3-1/2 years of the Tribulation, after believers have been caught up to Christ. Post-tribulationists believe that Christians will not be taken up into Heaven, but will be received into the Kingdom at the end of the Tribulation. (Pretribulationist Tim LaHaye admits a post-tribulation rapture is the closest of the three views to that held by the early church.) All three views hold that Christians will return with Christ at the time of the Tribulation. Proponents of all three views also generally portray Israel as unwittingly signing a seven year peace treaty with the Antichrist, which initiates the seven year Tribulation. Many also tend to view the Antichrist as head of a revived Roman Empire, but the geographic location of this empire is unknown. Hal Lindsey suggests that this revived Roman Empire will be centered in western Europe, with Rome as its capital. Tim LaHaye promotes the belief that Babylon will be the capital of a worldwide empire. Joel Richardson and Walid Shoebat have both recently written books proposing a revived eastern Roman Empire, which will fall with the boundaries of the Ottoman Empire. (Istanbul also has seven hills, was a capital of the Roman Empire and is known as the Golden Horn - notable given the eschatological references to the "Little Horn".) There is also a variant Futuristic view that the Tribulation can occur in any generation, meaning Satan always has an antichrist in the wings and there is always a nation-state that can become the revived Roman Empire. This variant view is developed by Angela Hunt in her fictional work, The Immortal.
The futurist view was first proposed by two Catholic writers, Manuel Lacunza and Ribera. Lacunza wrote under the pen name "Ben Ezra", and his work was banned by the Catholic Church. It has grown in popularity in the 19th and 20th centuries, so that today it is probably most readily recognized. Books about the "rapture" by authors like Hal Lindsey, and the more recent Left Behind novels (by Jerry Jenkins and Tim LaHaye) and movies, have done much to popularize this school of thought.
The Rastafarians hold a futurist view of the book of Revelation, relating it both to 20th-century events such as the crowning of Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie and the Second Italo-Ethiopian War, and also to future events such as the second coming of Selassie on the day of judgment.
The various views on tribulation are actually a subset of theological interpretations on the Millennium, mentioned in Revelation 20. There are three main interpretations: Premillennialism, Amillennialism, and Postmillennialism.
Premillennialism believes that Christ will return to the earth, bind Satan, and reign for a literal thousand years on earth with Jerusalem as his capital. Thus Christ returns before ("pre-") the thousand years mentioned in chapter 20. There are generally two subclasses of Premillennialism: Dispensational and Historic. Some form of premillennialism is thought to be the oldest millennial view in church history. Papias, believed to be a disciple of the Apostle John, was a premillenialist, according to Eusebius.
Amillennialism, the traditional view for Roman Catholicism, believes that the thousand years mentioned are not ("a-") a literal thousand years, but is figurative for what is now the church age, usually, the time between Christ's first ascension and second coming. This view is often associated with Augustine of Hippo. Amillennialists differ on the time frame of the millennium as some say it started with Pentecost, others say it started with the fulfillment of Jesus' prophecy regarding the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem (70), and other starting points have also been proposed. Whether this eschatology is the result of caesaropapism, which may have also been the reason that premillennialism was condemned, is sharply disputed.
Postmillennialism believes that Christ will return after ("post-") a literal/figurative thousand years, in which the world will have essentially become a Christendom. This view was held by Jonathan Edwards. This view gained momentum through the nineteenth century, but World Wars I and II dealt a setback to this approach.
Politically, historicist interpretations apply the symbols of Revelation to the gradual division and collapse of the Roman Empire, the emergence of a divided Europe in the West and a Muslim empire in the East, and the collapse of the Eastern Empire while Europe attempts to reunite and recreate the Roman Empire.
Ecclesiastically, historicist interpretations see Revelation as teaching that the Church would expand, despite persecution, until it "conquered" the whole world—but in the process, would gradually evolve into an apostate system within which true Christians would be a persecuted minority. The apostate Church is associated with the symbols of the "Mother of Harlots" and with "Babylon". It is seen as an "Antichrist system" which exists for much of history rather than expecting a single "Antichrist" in the last days, as futurist interpretations do.
The exact constitution of this confederacy differs between interpretations: in some it is mainly composed of Eastern European countries, notably Russia; in others, Western European; some include Britain, while others suggest that Britain and former Commonwealth nations will oppose the confederacy. In all historicist interpretations, Christ defeats this confederacy, rescues Israel from certain destruction, judges apostate Christianity and vindicates the true believers, and sets up a kingdom on earth.
The earliest Christian writers adopted a historicist viewpoint, though at such an early date, the distinction between historicist and futurist views was less pronounced. Historicist interpretations tend to be millenarian, emphasizing the literal reign of Christ on earth, and as that doctrine receded in importance, so too did the historicist focus in interpretation. Today, historicist interpretations are favored in the most ardently millenarian sects.
Some Protestant writers today use this school of interpretation as the foundation for an anti-Catholic polemic, but it should be noted that such is not an inherent property of historical interpretations. Many Catholic writers in the fourth and fifth centuries applied the notion of future apostasy to their own church, in various ways. Some argued that an apostasy would arise within the church. Others argued that this had already happened, and cited one or another sect which arose over some theological dispute. What differs between interpretations is the identity of the apostasy.
Eastern Orthodoxy has an interpretation that does not fit well into any of the above classifications. It treats the text as simultaneously describing contemporaneous events and as prophecy of events to come, for which the contemporaneous events were a form of foreshadow. It rejects attempts to determine, before the fact, if the events of Revelation are occurring by mapping them onto present-day events, taking to heart the Scriptural warning against those who proclaim "He is here!" prematurely. Instead, the book is seen as a warning to be spiritually and morally ready for the end times, whenever they may come ("as a thief in the night"), but they will come at the time of God's choosing, not something that can be precipitated nor trivially deduced by mortals.
The Book of Revelation is the only book of the New Testament that is not read during services by the Eastern Orthodox Church. In the Coptic Orthodox Church (which is not in communion with the Eastern Orthodox church but is liturgically similar), the whole book of revelation is read during apocalypse night or bright Saturday (the eve of the resurrection).
Some scholars have noted the rider on a white horse as being similar to the Buddhist and Hindu myths of Kalki who is considered the last avatar in the cycle of ages and is also associated with the end of time.
The esoteric view also presents the Book as the Christian yoga (union) practices text on death and rebirth in Christ. The four horsemen are described as the four elemental forces (fire, water, air, earth) and are used in the spiritual purification of the body and mind. The characters of Revelation are considered anthropomorphized aspects of human consciousness.
The radical discipleship view asserts that the Book of Revelation is best understood as a handbook for radical discipleship; i.e. how to remain faithful to the spirit and teachings of Jesus and avoid simply assimilating to surrounding society. In this view, the primary agenda of the book is to expose the worldly powers as impostors which seek to oppose the ways of God. The chief temptation for Christians in the 1st Century, and today, is to fail to hold fast to the teachings of Jesus and instead be lured into unquestioning adoption of national or cultural values, imperialism being the most dangerous and insidious. This perspective (closely related to Liberation theology) draws on the approach of radical Bible scholars such as Ched Myers, William Stringfellow, and Daniel Berrigan.
The historical-critical method treats Revelation as a text which is located in a specific historical context.
The acceptance of Revelation into the canon is itself the result of a historical process, essentially no different from the career of other texts. The eventual exclusion of other contemporary apocalyptic literature from the canon may throw light on the unfolding historical processes of what was officially considered orthodox, what was heterodox, what was even heretical. Interpretation of meanings and imagery are anchored in what the historical author intended and what his contemporary audience inferred; a message to Christians not to assimilate into the Roman Imperial Culture was John's central message. Thus, his letter (written in the apocalyptic genre) is pastoral in nature, and the symbolism of Revelation is to be understood entirely within its historical, literary and social context. Critics study the conventions of apocalyptic literature and events of the 1st century to make sense of what the author may have intended.
During a discussion about Revelation on 23 August 2006, Pope Benedict XVI remarked: "The seer of Patmos, identified with the apostle, is granted a series of visions meant to reassure the Christians of Asia amid the persecutions and trials of the end of the first century.
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