Revealing Revelation: An Objective Look at the End of Time

Revealing Revelation: An Objective Look at the End of Time

I looked, and there before me was a pale horse! Its rider wasnamed Death, and Hades was following close behind him…” –Revelation 6:8 NIV

So are the beginnings of God’s wrath and tribulation upon ourdoomed world. From this point on we are bombarded with a string ofimages of almost Lovecraftian horror. The book tells of poison stars raining from the sky, of great beasts running wild across the lands, and swarms of demonic locusts pouring from the depths of the Abyss at the heed of their fallen angel king. It talks of madness and disease pouring across the land, wiping away the nonbelievers and the wicked as a tide would do to so much refuse. Seven years of death and destruction pour upon the doomed Earth by God before the final judgment. This story of wrath and horrible celestial justice is the concluding chapter of the bible. The climax of the story starts with the tale of an innocent baby born in a manger surrounded by the kindness of animals and family. This is the imminent and fast closing doom that awaits us all, just beyond the horizon.

… At least, this is what is said.

The fact of the matter is that this concept of an oncoming Apocalypse is hardly a foregone conclusion. It is, as the evidence will show, a rather poor interpretation of the book, and it seems, has only been used for ill throughout history.

A Note

For the purpose of this paper and argument, it shall be assumed thatthere is no God or gods, or that the influence of these deities upon the physical world is so small that it is completely negligible. The reason is that when a force that can at any point in time violate the laws of the universe and logic at its own whim is introduced as an explanation for any sort of anomaly, logic and science are effectively suspended as the mystic force becomes a self-justifying answer to everything. Faith in that which cannot be contradicted or proven destroys logic.

Uncertain History and Unoriginal Philosophy

Part of the mythos of the Book of Revelation is that it was written by St. John, a disciple of Jesus Christ himself. In fact, the book isalso commonly known as the Apocalypse of John. The truth is that this idea has little basis in historical fact.

It was Justin Martyr, in around 160 C.E., that first named the John of the book as a disciple of Christ (Collins 997.) This claim was made roughly eighty or more years after the person named supposedly died. In the book itself, the author simply identifies himself as a humble servant of God. Nor does it say anywhere that he is himself a prophet, just that he is closely related to them (Collins 997). Thereis also little evidence that the Gospel of John and the Book of Revelation was penned by the same man. There are large differences between the style, language, and theology of the two works (Collins998). The theories that these discrepancies can be explained away by using two different scribes have not been “compelling” (Collins998). There is also a theory that the John of Revelation is in reality John the Elder, but it does not have much support (Collins998).

Besides the authorship of the book being in contention, there has also been conflict over whether or not the book is even canonical innature. In the early years of the church, it was highly debated onwhether or not many books and gospels should be included in the NewTestament. Revelation, along with Hebrews, the Epistles of James, II Peter, II & III John, The Shepherd of Hermas, The Didache, The Epistle of Barnabas and The Epistles of Clement, were all argued overby a wide rang of theologians and heretics (Tobin, 2). Even todaysome sects of Christianity with old roots reject the book of Revelation as uninspired, one of these being The East-Syrian Nestorian Church (Tobin, 3). In the fourth century, St. John Chrysostom and other bishops argued against the book for its ambiguous nature and danger for abuse (“The Book of Revelation”2). It was also listed along with the far less well known Apocalypse of Peter as a disputed book by St. Nicephorus, Patriarch of Constantinople in the ninth century (“The Book of Revelation” 2).

It is well known that Christianity makes up its own mythology by stealing parts of pagan religions that they have conquered. In the essay “The Truth About Jesus: Is He a Myth?” The author M.M. Mangasarian goes so far as to suggest that Jesus and his apostles are in fact stolen from arch-typical Sun God mythology (272). The habits of Christianity’s mythology are common knowledge. Then it is not beyond the realm of reason that the idea of the End Times could be taken from somewhere else. Many cultures have their own world endingmythology. Many of these include legends such as the Norse Ragnarok, Zoroastrianism, and Mayan astrology (“End Time” 2). While these stories of divine conflict and cosmic death and rebirth shares many similarities with John’s Apocalypse, the theology behind thevarious End Times events are all so different that the idea of adirect lift from one mythology to the other dose not stand up tocritical scrutiny. The concepts are similar though. Perhaps it is as a teacher of mine suggested. The idea of the End Times story is simply a way for man, a finite and relative being, to rationalize the infinite nature of the universe and bring it down to his own level.

Precognition and Prophecy

To begin, the first matter of discussion is the very nature and possibility of the existence of a prophecy. The Webster’s New World Dictionary and Thesaurus defines a prophecy as a simple prediction(508). For this paper, a prophecy shall be used in its more contemporary and used context, which is the literal unquestionable knowledge of the future. Now, the two common ideas on prophecy are that it is either a scientific impossibility, or it is an event driven by forces beyond science. The truth of the matter is there is a large amount of scientific evidence for precognition, the ability for a human to be able to perceive events through time.

In 1989 Charles Honorton and psychologist Diane Ferrari published a meta-analysis of all of precognitive experiments using the“forced-choice” method between 1935 and 1987 (Radin 113.). A meta-analysis is an overall analysis of the many experiments that have occurred on a single subject, measuring how much an experiment has been replicated, and how accurate the replication is (Radin 51).The Honorton and Ferrari meta-analysis drew from a pool of 309 studies. The odds of the successful results being all pure chance are ten million billion billion to one (Radin 114). Even after trimming down the number of used studies to account for wildly large or small results, the number stands at two hundred and forty-eight studies and odds against chance at a billion to one (Radin 115).

The experiments in the Honorton and Ferrari analysis were all “forced choice.” This is an experiment in which a subject is asked to predict which one of a fixed number of targets will be picked at random. If the prediction is successful, it is considered a “hit.” In many studies, the target is randomly generated after the prediction and is presented immediately as feedback. (Radin 113.) The analysis shows that about 42.6 percent using trial by trial feed back are successful, when odds show that only about five percent should succeed (Radin 116).

Another interesting thing noted in the analysis is that the longer amount of time was spent between the prediction and the generation of the feedback, the less likely the prediction is to be right. Also, studies show that individual testing and selecting participants alsotended to increase chance of success. The importance of this is thatit shows that precognition operates under observable rules that fit into what is already known by tradition psychology (Radin 116).

The fact is that John would have needed to use his precognitive ability to see into the future. The problem with this concept is that it does not hold up even to positive evidence of perception through time. Unless one believes the nightmares of the Book of Revelationhave already been visited upon the Earth, John would have needed to have seen nineteen hundred years ahead of his own existence. The possibility of this happening when placed against the evidence of Honorton and Ferrari is beyond astronomical.

Another problem for the prophecy thesis is the psychological side of the event. In the book, one thing Radin talks about is why it is so hard for science to accept the overwhelming amount of evidence produced in support of psychic phenomena. One reason he cites is the nature of the mind to perceive the world not “as it is, but as we wish it to be” (229). The idea is that humans create a model of the world in their heads based on personal beliefs and biases. Skeptics do not accept psychic phenomena as even a possibility because they do not believe it can even be. (Radin 230.) The same would be true for John. Even if by some prodigious exertion of chance and will, he would be able to glimpse so far into the future, the things he would report would be warped by his own bias. It is for this reason that in Stephen King’s own apocalyptic work, The Stand, the horror author suggests that God has always used the insane and feeble mindedas prophets, in order to avoid such a warping of God's word (1028).

Propaganda and Symbology

One thing essential to any interpretation of an allegorical text, such as Revelation, is the symbols. The meaning behind these symbols used in allegory is crucial to interpret the true meaning of the text. When one examines the text of Revelation certain parallels between it and history begin to crop up, particularly with the events surrounding World War II. The idea is not so far off. The descriptions of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse match up with the four primary Nazi leaders, Hitler, Goering, Goebbels, and Himmler. In Revelation, it discusses a resurrected Babylon. Babylon has long beenan ancient Jewish symbol of persecution and decadence, a perfect symbol then for Nazi Germany. The “number of the beast” might inreality be a geometric anagram for the Star of David. The Jews who tried to avoid the star and the persecution, such as Anne Frank, have become martyrs. In turn, those who accepted the star suffered a fate far worse than death…

Now, while this all may seem plausible, the truth is that most of itwas dreamt up by an imaginative sixteen year old boy one morning in the shower. It is an explanation like this that makes interpreting the symbols so controversial and difficult.

The problem with such a sensational interpretation has to do with the fundamental nature of the Book of Revelation. To begin, anyinterpretation of the book should to begin with an understanding ofthe culture and history that it came from. One would need knowledge of the world in which the book came from and the audience for which it was intended (Bratcher 3). It is also faulty to try and force every image into allegory, as it is sometimes the whole image or its impact which is important (Bratcher 3). Many modern futurists, suchas Tim LeHay, do not bother with such things. Usually the process amounts to someone trying to fit world events into allegory, and then shouting that the end is coming. The process usually amounts tolittle more than propaganda. The History Channel today is filled with programs trying to link Revelation to the Iraq war or a lost book of drawings by Nostradamus’s son and Mayan astrology. It would not be the first time that the book had been used in this fashion. During the Reformation, Martin Luther claimed that the Pope was in fact the “beast” of Revelation, while the Pope in turn said the same of Luther (Bratcher 4). Today, several of the aforementioned programs on the History Channel have tried to prove that Osama Bin Laden is the Anti-Christ.

The fact is that while the futurists may be one of the most visible groups concerning the Book of Revelation, they are not alone. All of the interpretations usually fall under four primary “interpretive horizons” (Bratcher 4). First are the aforementioned Futurists, who believe the book is a blueprint to the end of time, a view popular in the first century church and has become so again in the last hundred and fifty years. There are the Historicists, who consider the book tobe a symbolic narrative of human history that plays itself out overand over again, a common view in the middle ages and among 16thcentury reformers. Another viewpoint is that of the Preterists, who consider the book an allegorical tale of the persecution of First Century Christianity by the Roman Empire. This view gained prominence in the seventeenth and eighteenth century (Bratcher 4). Finally are the Idealists, who consider the book to be a narrative of the First Century Church only instead of being a record of history, it is in fact a morality tale. Through the struggles of the early church, people are to see and learn about God and themselves (Bratcher 4).

The truth of the matter is that the symbols and images used within the book of Revelation are highly vague and can be bent to fit anyone of these mind-sets. This may have to do with the fact that the book was never intended to be thought of this way.

The Book of Revelation is first and foremost, an apocalypse.Apocalypse in society today has come to mean a world ending event. In reality it is the Greek word for Revelation, which is where the book gains its title. Revelation itself is part of a genre known asapocalyptic writing. (Bratcher 2). Apocalyptic writing is an undisciplined and vague genre (Collins 996). An apocalyptic work will usually arise out of a crisis, in which the author has grown so cynical that it seems that only a climatic action on the part of Godcan alleviate the problem, and usually take the form of strange journeys and visions (Bratcher 2). While apocalypses have someconsoling elements for the victims of the crisis that spawned them, they also have huge propaganda elements in their composition (Collins997). From this definition, it seems that an apocalypse is somethingof a morality tale, combining fantasy, consultation, and propaganda into one message.

Meta-Analysis and Definition

Before a final conclusion to the nature of Revelation can be drawn,s everal smaller conclusions must be brought together and surmised.

First: The concept of a prophet seeing into the future and being toable predict, in detail, long sequences of events through timethousands of years beyond their own existence, is biologically implausible and even if achieved, would be dubious due to the nature of the mind to mold perceptions of reality based on bias.

Second: There is little proof that the book of Revelation was even written by anyone close to Christ himself, nor is the idea of the approaching death and rebirth of the world a new and original concept to Christianity.

Third: The symbology of the Book of Revelation is incredibly vague and lends itself more to propaganda and apocalyptic literature than actual prophecy.

Now, while many scholars note the apocalyptic nature of Revelation, many remove it from that genre due to the prophetic elements inherent in it (Collins 996), but since it has been concluded that the idea that a prophecy on the scale of Revelation is a farce, the prophetic elements can be ignored as simply a vehicle through which the apocalyptic narrative is told. This then lends itself to the idea of an Idealist/Historicist narrative. Another possibility is the mental instability of the author. Hallucinations, such as multi-headedbeasts and human-headed scorpion-tailed locusts, along with delusions, perhaps of divine favor, are signs of schizophrenia. The book could also have been written deliberately as a propaganda piece, perhaps as a way to discourage people from the death-bed baptism, or to rally more people to the side of Christianity with the horrible tale of the quickly approaching return of Christ.


Of the possible conclusions left above, the one supported most by the evidence presented would be the idea of a purely apocalyptic narrative, or a morality tale told in the form of a prophetic vision from the risen Messiah. Rising from the persecution of the Christians in the first century, the Book of Revelation was most likely written as a piece to try and convince the early churches to shape up and stand strong until the return of Christ. Using vague but disturbing images, the book tells a tale of the wrath of God upon the wicked and unbelieving, frightening and heartening the newly converted Christians and reaffirming their choice. In the end it is an effective piece, but no more divine and prophetic than this paper. Like the rest of Christianity, the book is only a remnant from a time when people believe leprosy was a sign of God’s displeasure and pork was a cursed food. At the end of the day, the Book of Revelation is just another piece of bitter superstition which will fade with time, as all things must in a time which shall not end and a universe which will outlast us.

sphincteria   sphincteria wrote
on 6/13/2008 8:18:18 PM
Energetic work. This walks the fine line separating pedagogy from pedantry. It's not a dry, boring display of argumentive analysis: example "In the end it is an effective piece, but no more divine and prophetic than this paper. " These touches of narrator personality make the piece more readable. Some scholarly approaches are inarguably well-argued, but put you to sleep before you can gain any benefit. Appears well researched in a manner to bolster the argument. Nothing qwrong with taking a stand and then gathering ammo from the four corners to defend that position. Overall, an easy and interesting read. The sentences flowed well and I noted no awkward passages requiring a dead stop. There are 30 or 40 typos, etc. but those mean squat to the big pictgure—which is, 'well done'.

Butterfly   Butterfly wrote
on 4/17/2008 1:47:01 PM
Very thought provoking.

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