Shortly after graduating from an evangelical college with a Biblical Studies degree, I began to wrestle with the book of Revelation. I was taught that Revelation prophesied in detail what was to happen in the last days; and the last days were no more than a few years away.
We were concerned with the antichrist who might already be among us. We were careful to avoid taking the mark of the beast by mistake. More than anything else we were determined to be ready for the imminent rapture so we would escape the terrible 7-year tribulation.
My initial questions about Revelation were:
- Why would God approve Israel’s oppression of the Palestinian people?
- Why would temple sacrifices be restored if Jesus made them obsolete?
These questions drove me to examine my understanding of the book of Revelation; what I discovered was Jewish apocalyptic literature.
What is Apocalyptic?
Apocalyptic is a literary genre filled with visions, heavenly journeys, and spirit-guides who explain to the traveler what is happening. Symbolism and grand imagery are the order of the day. Crashing mountains and falling heavenly bodies depict the collapse of secular powers. Demons and mythic beasts represent evil forces in opposition to God and his people, while powerful angels bring about his will.
Apocalyptic literature is mysterious—hence the spirit-guide, but even with guidance it is unclear.
This literature was written between about 200 BC and 100 AD with a distinct purpose. For centuries God’s people experienced oppression by foreign powers, and at times it seemed they would be totally destroyed. The apocalyptic writings developed to assure the people that, though things seemed desperate, ultimately God would prevail and evil would be contained and annihilated.
Apocalyptic was a literature of hope during times of hopelessness, and sufficient apocalyptic works from this period exist to establish common characteristics of the literature. The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, Vol. 1, edited by James H. Charlesworth contains numerous examples.
The First Book of Enoch
I Enoch was one of the earlier and more influential apocalyptic writings. It even influenced New Testament writers, and in these excerpts you will notice many similarities to the book of Revelation.
In the vision, the winds were causing me to fly and rushing me high up into heaven. And I kept coming (into heaven) until I approached a wall which was built of white marble and surrounded by tongues of fire.
As for the floor, it was of fire and above it was lightning and the path of the stars; and as for the ceiling, it was flaming fire.
And I observed and saw inside it a lofty throne—its appearance was like crystal and its wheels like the shining sun; and (I heard?) the voice of the cherubim; and from beneath the throne were issuing streams of flaming fire. It was difficult to look at it. And the Great Glory was sitting upon it—as for his gown, which was shining more brightly than the sun, it was whiter than snow.
And after that, I saw a hundred thousand times a hundred thousand, ten million times ten million, an innumerable and uncountable (multitude) who stand before the glory of the Lord of the Spirits. I saw them standing—on the four wings of the Lord of the Spirits—and saw four other faces among those who do not slumber, and I came to know their names, which the angel who came with me revealed to me; and he (also) showed me all the hidden things.
(Then) I heard the voices of those four faces while they were saying praises before the Lord of Glory.
On that day, two monsters will be parted—one monster, a female named Leviathan, in order to dwell in the abyss of the ocean over the fountains of water, and (the other), a male called Behemoth, which holds his chest in an invisible desert whose name is Dundayin, east of the garden of Eden, wherein the elect and the righteous ones dwell.
Chapters 100 and 102:
In those days…From dawn until the sun sets, they shall slay each other. The horse shall walk through the blood of sinners up to his chest.
In those days, the angels shall descend into the secret places. They shall gather together into one place all those who gave aid to sin. And the Most High will arise on that day of judgment in order to execute a great judgment upon all the sinners.
In those days, when he hurls out against you terror of fire, where shall you flee, and where shall you find safety? When he flings his word against you, will you not faint and fear? All the luminaries shall faint with great fear; the whole earth shall faint and tremble and panic.
The Book of Revelation as Apocalyptic
Do these passages from I Enoch have a familiar ring? They should; many of the themes and images reappear in the book of Revelation (or The Apocalypse). This is because 1 Enoch and Revelation are similar books written for similar purposes. They represent symbolically the situations of the original hearers; it is misguided for us to read the book of Revelation as prophesy of future history.
Photo Credit: Waiting For The Word via Compfight cc
I invite your comments and observations below.
If you enjoyed this post or found it helpful, please sign up in the column to the right so you don’t miss future posts.
Have a great day! ~Tim