Each issue carries an
Archdiocese of Cincinnati.
The Book of Revelation:
Getting Past the Hype
(A summary of this month's Youth Update)
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The last book of the Bible is the one
most misunderstood by readers. In many, reading the Book of Revelation
instills fear and anxiety. Rather than look at this book as a blueprint
for Armageddon or the great endtime, the battle to come between
the powers of good and evil, this Youth Update is intended
to help you understand Revelation from a Catholic Christian perspective.
You are invited to look at the book from
a contextualist viewpointexamining the Book of Revelation's
writing style and historical setting. The book's major theme will
be explored. You will be better able to make a book nearly 1,900
years old relevant right now.
1. What is apocalyptic literature
(the style of the Book of Revelation)?
Apocalyptic literature is a type of literature
that flourished in Judaism and early Christianity from roughly 200
B.C. to 200 A.D. The Old Testament Book of Daniel is apocalyptic
in style. This kind of writing looks ahead to the end of history
and the coming of the New Age, God's kingdom. The central message
is that God is in control.
2. A crisis inspired the Book of Revelation.
What was it?
In the mid-90's A.D., two crises were afoot.
The first was the Roman emperor Domitian who persecuted Christians
who did not offer incense to him. The second crisis was what to
do about the first! John of Patmos, author of Revelation, did not
want Christians to compromise and honor the emperor as a god.
3. Why is Revelation so hard to understand?
The Book of Revelation was written in secret
code so that the Romans couldn't understand it. Sometimes it's hard
for us as well! John of Patmos used coded images and descriptions
familiar to his audience. For instance, the author used lots of
numbers such as 666. Three sixes is the number of the beast. Given
that six is a number that symbolizes imperfection, repeated three
times it signifies total failure. The symbols in the book needed
to be secret, because the book was subversive, undercutting the
popular idea that the empire and the emperor were the ultimate powers.
4. What can we learn from the Book of
Revelation for our times?
Three main lessons for todaywhich
is like the times of pagan Rome in many wayscan be gained
from Revelation. First, you are a believer first and a citizen second.
Second, you must be an agent of hope. Third, you must remain faithful.
Carla Alderman (15), Sarah Andrew
(16), Bridget A. Commons (15), Natalie E. Corey (16), Angela A.
Long (15) and Annie Lander (15) gathered at Camp Rancho Framasa
in Nashville, Indiana, where they are counselors in training, to
review this issue. They represent parishes in Fishers, Indianapolis
and Plainfield, all in the Indianapolis Archdiocese. They posed
the following questions which have been answered by the authors.
How can you be sure what the various symbols
in the Book of Revelation mean? It certainly isn't clear to
Your question stems from thinking that Revelation
is unique. It's difficult to understand something without
anything to compare it to. This book is part of a literary
genre known as "apocalyptic." By examining and comparing other
examples of the genre, such as the Sibylline Oracles and the
Book of Enoch, common themes and symbols can be seen. What
at first seems cloudy and confusing, like the use of numbers
and colors in the Book of Revelation, becomes much clearer
and understandable by comparison.
The readers of the Book of Revelation were
brand-new Christians. How can we be called pagan when we've
had the words of Jesus and the whole New Testament for so
First, the Christians of Asia Minor for whom
John writes are not "new," but are the second generation of
the Church, removed some 60 years from the death and resurrection
of Jesus. Second, you must distinguish between being a citizen
and being a believer. Looking at our society as reflected
in music, TV and news media, you can't help but notice many
examples of selfishness, individualism and immorality. In
this light, our society can be described as pagan. The Christian
challenge isn't simply to hear about Jesus, but also to live
If the Book of Revelation is meant to inspire
hope, why does it scare people instead?
Many people's understanding of Revelation
is dictated by the media and popular culture which emphasize
the book's supposed doomsday scenarios. All you have to do
is look at a newspaper rack to find stories linking the Book
of Revelation to the end of the world. Disaster movies like
Armageddon, which draws its title from the Book of
Revelation, also encourage incorrect associations. Finally,
many people who read the Bible are unfamiliar with the book's
literary style and distort its meaning by taking it literally.
That's how a book about Jesus Christ and hope is twisted into
a book about fear and death.