Donald Trump is all over the news these days. He reminds me of the book of Revelation, and of the end of the world.
Nah, I’m just kidding. When the author of Revelation described trumps resounding, I doubt he had this particular Trump in mind. Then again, maybe he did. It is a weird book.
A high school teacher of mine once declared, “I hope this doesn’t offend anyone, but Revelation almost makes me wonder if John was tripping on something when he wrote it,” or words to that effect.
Revelation is a bizarre book, full of visions that seem more like hallucinations. A closer look reveals something even stranger. Revelation is a bit like Frankenstein’s monster: a book stitched together from bits of other books. It combines concepts and images from Old Testament prophets like Ezekiel, Daniel, and Zechariah with New Testament events such as the life of Christ and the spread of the Christian Church.
Revelation is weird, man.
The book is a bizarro mixture of warnings, prophecies, and visions, practically all of which are incredibly vague, and some of which are just weird. There are plagues, earthquakes, beasts, angels, demons, and locusts with human faces and scorpion stings. (I’m not making up that last one, I swear.)
Opinions on Revelation are extremely divided. Some interpret these visions and prophecies as literally as possible, which is the basis for the Left Behind books. (They’re pretty terrible.) Others believe the visions are somehow symbolic of world events. A few lunatics believe the mystical “secrets” of Revelation can be somehow “unlocked,” which is rubbish.
I have no idea how to interpret Revelation, but the most sensible theory I’ve read is that its visions and prophecies applied not to events in our own future, but to events that occurred nearly two millennia ago. According to this view, Revelation prophesied imminent events such as the Siege of Jerusalem in 70 AD. This theory isn’t perfect, but it seems more rational than most of the ideas floating around these days.
Of course, there’s more to Revelation than its unanswered questions. Certain elements of Revelation have captured imaginations everywhere and left a huge cultural impact.
Consider the number 666. “This calls for wisdom,” wrote the author of Revelation. “If anyone has insight, let him calculate the number of the beast, for it is man’s number. His number is 666.” Many have tried to solve this riddle, but none have figured it out.
The best theory I’ve heard, based on established traditions of biblical numerical symbolism, is that it represents someone who challenges the sovereignty of God. The number three represents God, who is three Persons, and the number seven symbolizes perfection. The number 666 (three sixes) represents an imperfect trinity that falls short of perfect divinity.
Nowadays, the number 666 is used mostly in horror movies and stuff. Superstitions surround the number to a point at which some people are a little scared of it. This fear is called hexakosioihexekontahexaphobia. (Seriously, I’m not making this up.)
Another popular image from Revelation is the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. These bringers of divine judgment ride differently-colored horses and are widely believed to represent cataclysmic events. The riders of the white, red, black, and pale horses are thought to symbolize conquest (or possibly plague), war, famine, and death, respectively.
The Four Horsemen have been embraced by pop culture, even becoming characters in superhero comics. (Heck, the trailers for the next X-Men movie suggest the Horsemen will make an appearance.) There are even unofficial My Little Pony versions of the Horsemen, because this is the Internet.
Revelation is full of weird images and intriguing concepts, but the note on which it ends is a hopeful one. The final chapters of Revelation paint a picture of a world no longer broken, but restored and renewed. God wipes away the pain, the injustice, the suffering. He makes things right.
The older I get, the more I see the brokenness of the world. In my twenty-something years, I’ve glimpsed the sickening realities of poverty, abuse, depression, mental illness, and addiction—and God only knows what horrors I haven’t seen. It makes me long for everything to be fixed.
This brings me to a song. It is, honestly, the most beautiful song I know. No song in the universe stirs my soul quite so deeply as Michael Card’s “New Jerusalem.” It makes me long for a time when there will be no more hunger, no more child soldiers, no more senseless massacres, and no more pain.
That is the great message of Revelation, which not even its weirdest visions can eclipse: God will someday set things straight.