The Book of Revelation Explained: An Overview of the End of the World

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For years, thousands of people were convinced that the world was going to end on December 21, 2012, all because of how folks interpreted a Mayan calendar. There were movies about impending catastrophes, and many doomsdayers became obsessed. The date turned out to be uneventful, but that doesn’t mean the end of days aren’t forecasted by other sources. According to the Bible’s Book of Revelation, they may be happening now.

The end of the world is something that has always been fascinating to societies throughout history. Christianity takes the subject head-on in the final book of the New Testament. The Book of Revelation takes place after The Epistles of St. Paul and the Gospels. As the final book in the Bible, it fittingly tells the story of the final prophecy of man’s time on Earth.  

Based on this story, there are some who think that the signs of the apocalypse have already happened or are happening now. Read on to learn more about the Book of Revelation and you’ll see just how people are coming to these conclusions.

The Book of Revelation’s Origins

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The Book of Revelation’s writer and time of writing, like much of the Bible, is sometimes debated. It’s believed that the book was written in 96 A.D. While the book’s author is also up for debate, the narrator of the book is John, and many believe that this is the Apostle John from the Gospel of John. Others believe that the book is narrated by a different prophet who also happened to be named John. There are multiple Johns in the Bible, so this isn’t too much of a leap.

The year 96 A.D. would mean that Domitian was the Emperor of Rome during the time of its release. Domitian was not a Christian himself and is said to have persecuted Christians and Jewish people during his reign. This too is heavily debated. The Book of Revelation was officially added to the Bible in the 4th century according to Princeton Professor, Elaine Pagels.

The Book of Revelation is rejected by several sects of Christianity, including the Church of the East and Eastern Orthodox Christians. Martin Luther and John Calvin, two prominent figures in Protestantism, both rejected it or refused to acknowledge it.

Some people believe that the Book of Revelation was meant to be taken as an allegory for what Christians were going through at the time. The book was initially sent to seven churches that weren’t operating the way they were supposed to, so the Book of Revelation may have been meant as a bit of a warning to them.

Others believe that the stories in Revelation are prophecies meant to foretell salvation and the fate of humankind. There are dragons, beasts, pit locusts and other monstrous creatures in Revelation. Because of how fantastical the book is, many see the creatures as allegories for modern-day people. For example, people thought Ronald Reagan was “the Beast” because his first, middle and last names each contain six letters, making “6-6-6,” or the number of the Beast.

Revelation Prophecies: Roadmap to the End

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The Book of Revelation can be broken down into several parts. In fact, a lot of things in the book arrive in sevens, since it’s a holy number.

Here is a brief timeline of the Book of Revelation:

1. The first part of Revelation is considered a bit of a prologue in which John receives his first vision from Jesus about the end of the world. John is told to write the visions down as they come to him.

2. Next is the clear message to the seven churches that were deemed troublesome at the time. The churches were Ephessus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodica. This section is why some people think that the Book of Revelation is a direct address rather than a prediction of humankind’s ultimate, literal destiny.

3. The third section is the start of The Tribulation — seven years of hardships like war, disease, and famine will affect the Earth to test people’s faith in God. This is where things start to turn into an action movie. Known as “Seven Scenes” in heaven, this part introduces The Four Living Creatures (a lion, a calf, a man and an eagle) to the vision. The creatures are seen with multiple wings and eyes. The Four Living Creatures are attendants to God and each one has a different horseman that they call forth.

4. After the Seven Scenes, we are introduced to the Seven Seals. As the seals are opened, the four horsemen of the apocalypse make their grand entrances. War, famine, disease, and death fall upon humankind until the seventh seal is broken. When the seventh seal is broken, the Seven Trumpets of God are sounded and God’s wrath is felt across the planet through natural disasters. This is also where the Antichrist (a.k.a. the Beast) is introduced.

5. Next, war breaks out in heaven. Michael the Archangel fights a dragon. That dragon gives the Beast, who emerges from the sea and happens to have 10 horns, permission to rule the world. This Beast is in some way marked with the number “666.” Soon after, people are forced to bear the mark of the Beast.

6. Before the Temple of God can be opened to those who’ve survived the apocalypse and accepted Jesus Christ as their savior, there are Seven Plagues that need to occur — but no one knows when they will start or end. This means bodies of water will turn to blood, people will break out in sores, and a heat wave will burn peoples’ bodies, in addition to other horrible things.

7. After more suffering, Jesus eventually gets married, casts the Beast into the Lake of Fire, and the remaining souls are judged in the Final Seven Visions to John.

Reading this overview, you can see why the Book of Revelation is so controversial and open to so much interpretation.  For a deep dive into the book, there are a lot of different roads you can take. There are at least 28 translations of the Bible in English alone. When you throw other languages into the mix, there have been over 1,000 translations. The Bible itself was originally written in Latin, so there’s a lot that could have been lost in translation. No matter where you read the Book of Revelation first, remember that there are many other translations and countless more interpretations.

Is the World Ending Right Now?

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Humankind’s fascination with the end of the world predates the Book of Revelation. We imagine that this interest won’t be going anywhere. If you look hard enough in the depths of the internet, you’ll find folks arguing about why they think we’re living during one of the 7 seals or a different part of the Revelation story. Although climate-related disasters continue to occur, these sorts of events don’t mean the book is coming to fruition, though it’s clear that during uncertain and scary times folks will turn to all sorts of stories for answers.

If you want to see parts of Revelation acted out for you on your screen, we recommend the adaptation of Terry Pratchet’s Good Omens. It portrays the Book of Revelation as if it were to happen today. Other adaptations, like 1976’s The Omen or the CW’s Supernatural, get a little creative in their tellings of the story, too.