What comes to mind when you think about the word Apocalypse? I suspect for many of us, we think about catastrophic world ending events like we sometimes see in movies. But is this the right use of the word from a Biblical perspective?
What is a Biblical Apocalypse and what is Jewish Apocalyptic literature? What does understanding this unique genre of writing contribute to our reading of the Bible?
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When we read the book of Revelation or the visions described in Daniel, we usually end up talking about ‘the’ apocalypse. However, I think it’s more appropriate to talk about ‘an’ apocalypse when we’re engaging with the style of writing that is Jewish Apocalyptic Literature.
This style of writing is densely packed with vivid images and metaphors which are meant to help us make sense of complex heavenly realities. This is very similar to the ways in which God speaks to us in other parts of the Bible like in the psalms and wisdom literature.
Apocalypses also tend to lean toward being prophetic. For example, a very strong argument can be made that the apocalypses in Daniel prophesied the rise and fall of the Roman Empire. Likewise, parts of John’s apocalypse in Revelation seem to prophecy about the end times.
Because of this it makes sense that we tend to read parts of Revelation as being about a specific event at the end of time. However, there are also elements in Revelation which address the situation of the Church in John’s context, and still more which seem to look backward through history.
In both Daniel and Revelation, we are told that what is being described is a vision from God. These visions help us to see history from God’s perspective and they reveal how God has been and continues to be involved in the unfolding of it. I think it’s also fair to say that these visions are intended to help us interpret our past, present, and future by taking God’s unique perspective into account.
Where we might get into trouble is when we start reading these texts as a roadmap which we can use to predict how specific events will unfold before Christ’s return. When this happens, we can become distracted from our mission in the world which is to herald the Kingdom of God.
I think these visions are best understood as opportunities for us to trust God. Specifically, to trust that God is in control of history and while we are given glimpses of what’s to come, we still see through the glass darkly this side of Heaven. This is part of the repeated theme found throughout Scripture of God inviting us to trust Him and His wisdom.
The question remains, will we?
I want to thank you for taking this journey through The Bible Projects “How To Read The Bible” series with me. I hope it has been a fruitful experience for you. I have certainly enjoyed preparing these reflections for you.
“And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.” Philippians 1:9-10 (NIV)