John, the Evangelist, brother of James the Martyr (Acts 12
), was deported to Patmos island for the sake of faith. From there he sent us this “Revelation.” Skies opened, angels and tragedies, corruption of the well-to-do and the blood of martyrs: God’s judgment goes down the centuries. God’s glory has come near and only a curtain divides us. Everything is brought to an end in the heavenly city.
Why does Revelation have the reputation of being a mysterious book, hard to understand and why, for many people, does it have a terrifying meaning? Can it be because there, many seek secret figures and messages which might be adapted to current events as if John had announced them in detail?
If we want to avoid misunderstanding the images and the style of the Revelation of John we should first know that “revelations,” or “apocalypses” were a popular form of literature at the time of Jesus. There was an Apocalypse of Isaiah, one of Moses, and many others. It was a way of interpreting contemporary events wrapped up in formidable images, with visions and angels. The author of the book attributed it to a known prophet of the past, but only related events that were already known, trying to draw conclusions and showing what God wanted to achieve.
In writing this “Revelation of Jesus Christ,” John was expressing what the Lord taught him in many ways by means of his gifts as a prophet, but he also adopted the usual formulae of apocalyptic books. When he dealt with contemporary events, he placed them in his visions and fantastic illustrations. He did the same in the second part of his book, teaching us what history would be. He did not intend to relate future events (the Lord had not given him a video of them) but tells us what was at stake and who would be the real actors. We will better understand this Revelation if we interpret the visions, numbers and symbols according to the rules of apocalyptic literature. Then we shall see that the Revelation of Jesus Christ is neither difficult nor terrifying but full of joy and hope.
The risen Christ is the center of history; the world is the place of the struggle between the church, headed by Christ, and Satan’s forces; Christians are called to give their witness with courage.
In this book we can see seven series, each with seven elements, in four major parts:
– the seven messages to the churches, chapters 1–3;
– the fulfillment of the Old Testament, chapters 4–11;
– the Church faces the Roman Empire, chapters 12–19;
– the last days and the heavenly Jerusalem, chapters 20–22.
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