One of the quickest ways to start an
argument, … er, um … lively debate, among Christians is to bring up the book of Revelation. For some reason great charity and flexibility is accommodated on a whole host of bible teachings and topics but if you step out of line with your view about this book, look out! Heretic! Liberal! Fundamentalist!
Most believe and accept that Revelation combines literary genres and most agree that apocalyptic is the major genre. But what is apocalyptic? For some Mad Max or Zombie Apocalypse come to mind and, sadly, that is usually reflected in how they teach the book. For others a more scholarly definition might be used where apocalyptic isn’t necessarily about a nuclear holocaust. It’s a story involving supernatural symbolism. Apocalyptic books (like Daniel in the Old Testament or works such as 1 Enoch and The Apocalypse of Abraham) gave a minority audience, under duress or persecution, reassurance to hang in there and anticipate vindication. The books rely heavily on symbolism and cultural allusion to get the point across. A close idea in concept today might be the way comedians use satire, innuendo and double entendre to ridicule politicians. In the West of course they aren’t subtle because they’re not going get crucified upside down or thrown into a colosseum and ripped apart by wild animals. But, in the first century, the way to get your point across that the little guy can stand up to the man, is via an apocalyptic narrative.
Revelation fits this method. It’s a story; it involves lots of cultural and religious symbolism; the recipients were facing constant danger; it uses coded satire and parody to portray oppressive authority figures who get their comeuppance. Reading it this way, instead of as a codified prediction of microchips, atomic bombs and bar code technology gave a sense to Christians in Asia Minor that the abusive intolerant Roman officials and sectarian Jews didn’t have the last say in how the world will turn out.
Today instead of parodying Rome the writer might have included media infotainment personalities and lifestyle reality show comperes. After all, these are the dominant figures that control the opinions and mood of the public. Today going against the tide of popular opinion as perceived and broadcast in mainstream media will result in ostracism, exclusion and derision. Don’t believe me? What’s your view on changing marriage laws? How about the solution to management of boat people? Now, what’s your real view compared to the one you “share” with your workmates? Well, of course they’re the same, aren’t they? You’re not a racist bigot after all, are you? Well, not so long as you stay quiet about the idols and altars of the MSM.
And behold I was seated in lounge and the TV came on and I looked into heaven and heard the introductory fanfare and I heard the voice of the great host say, “Sit down and I will show you news, done differently, and you will know what to think about the things you have seen.” There was a panel in the centre of the vision with four great co-hosts each one beautifully styled and surrounded by a great audience. The audience clapped and cheered every time the co-hosts spoke. One of the co-hosts was a comedian who belittled the prime ministers and presidents of the world with his razor wit. Another, next to him had the face of a maiden and laughed at all the comedian’s jokes. The third was a special guest brought into the studio to be a foil for the fourth co-host. Night and day the fourth co-host asserted his dogmatic opinion. His opinion was superior to all others and no other opinions would be tolerated, not on his watch and not in his country. And the audience members all bowed to the wit and charm of the co-hosts and surrendered their will to those who sat at the news desk for the co-hosts are all-knowing and none dared disagree with them. Their words are all-powerful, just and true.*
Revelation is not about zombies with microchips in their foreheads. It’s a satirical parody of the infotainment masters of the first century. Their dominance of the ratings wars will not last and their coronation will not be televised.
* Check out Revelation Chapter 4 to see how the original author did it.