The Meaning of the Book of Revelation

20 November 2008 Thursday of the 33rd Week in Ordinary Time
Revelation 5, 1-10; Psalm 149; Luke 19, 41-44

We continue our reflection on Revelation, the first reading. In yesterday’s reading (Rev 4, 6-11), we’ve seen how symbols are used in the book of Revelation. Put together, the message was the praise and glory of God. Today, we will see God’s plan of salvation in symbolic language.

Why symbolic language? In the past years, there has been an interest in the book of Revelation, despite the book being strange. I guess, the interest comes from a misunderstanding of the book: they thought that the book of Revelation with all its symbols are a code that predicts real events and exact people that would lead to the end of the world. The problem is this: it is not. If one reads it this way, then we miss out the spiritual meaning of the book. I believe, if we have to appreciate Revelation, we have to see the spiritual message of the book.

The book of Revelation (Greek, Apocalypse) is a type of writing familiar to the Jewish and Christians during that time. The book of Daniel is apocalyptic as Revelation. Both have a background of war and persecution. When Daniel wrote the book, the Syrian ruler of Palestine, Antiochus, was forcing people to renounce Judaism. Whoever did not were killed. We date Revelation during the time of the emperor Domitian who was assassinated (96 AD). It was a time of Christian persecution. They were martyred because they refused emperor worship. The author of the book (traditionally it was associated with John the Evangelist, but another John on the island of Patmos) used symbolic language so that they would not be caught. It is difficult to criticized the oppressing government. Thus all of these apocalyptic book come from people oppressed by imperial power. In order to the criticize the political power, they used symbols ranging from Ancient Eastern myth to Greek mythology which only people familiar to the long tradition and history are very familiar with. Symbols were used also to protect the authors. Daniel was a wise man in the Babylonian court. Baruch was a scribe during the Babylonian Exile. Thus in the Revelation, the author used the evils of Babylon to refer to the evils of the Roman empire. Thus the book of Revelation is an encouragement to those who are in danger of martyrdom. It is the faithful who share the victory of Christ’s death, who overcome evil. The sufferings of people for the sake of righteousness are acknowledged by God.

In the first reading, the prophet Ezekiel had a vision (Ezekiel 2, 9-10) of being shown a scroll with writings front ad back and written, “Lamentation... and woe.” The scroll was opened for Ezekiel to see. In Revelation, there is a slight change. The scroll now is had seven seals, reminiscent of Daniel in which the prophet was asked to seal the scroll until the final days” (Daniel 12,4). In the reading, the sealed scroll is being opened by the Lamb. The opening of the scroll now marks that the final stages can now begin. The only one who can open the seal is the Lion of Judah (image from the book of Ezra, 1 Ezra 11, 36-46) or the Lamb of David which refers to the Messiah. The Lion/Lamb speaks against Rome, the imperial beasts. The victory of the Lion/Lamb is in His death and resurrection. At the end of the passage, the heavenly choir sings praises with a new song, creating a new people of God.

Because of this spiritual message, the book of Revelation speaks to us today. Our newspapers are filled with stories of oppression in various forms. People are suffering because of corruption, famine and war. Revelation warns Christians against being silent and apathetic in the presence of injustice. It tells us to stand to what we believe. It tells us that we have to speak up even if entails suffering from it. It tells us that if there is something that is inconsistent and opposing of our beliefs, we should not be afraid to air out our opposition. In other words, it is part of Christian faith to be witness to its truth.

No comments: