The last book of the New Testament, which portrays a final conflict between the forces of good and evil. Also called the book of the Apocalypse and the Apocalypse of John, Revelation portrays the Second Coming of Christ, the final triumph of the kingdom of God, and the destruction of all evil. The opening verse presents the book’s title as meaning either “the revelation that Christ possesses and imparts” or “the unveiling of the person of Christ.” It is a message sent by God through the celestial Jesus to an angel and then to the author, John.
Revelation is the only book of the New Testament whose character is exclusively prophetic. The text has been the subject of criticisms and commentaries for centuries and was even controversial in the early times of Christianity.
The book officially became part of the Christian canon by the fourth century C.E. The identity of the author, John, an exile on the island of Patmos, remains in doubt. Even some of the church fathers assumed he was John the Evangelist, the author of the Gospel of John. It is more likely that the text was written by various authors who blended Christian and Jewish symbolism. There are four main schools of interpretation of the book. The preterists (from the Latin term praeter, meaning beyond or past) hold that the book tells the story of the contemporary condition of the state of Rome and the church, told in a mystical code that hides the meaning from hostile pagans. Those of the historical school hold that the symbolic form tells the story of the entire historical life of the church, not just its contemporary condition.
The futurists hold that some passages refer to the contemporary scene, and some to the return of Christ at the end of time. The symbolic school sees the book as a dramatic picture of the war between good and evil, which exists in varying degrees in every historical age. The four great visions presented in Revelation are each introduced with the phrase “in the spirit,” near the beginning of the first, fourth, seventh, and 21st chapters. Each of the four visions presents the seer in a different location, each paints a distinctive picture of Christ, and each advances the previous vision.
The book is written in three parts. Part 1 features letters addressed to seven of the groups of Christians of the Roman province of Asia. The letters of the churches (chapters 1–3) are thought to have originally existed as a separate text. They depict Christ’s continuing relationship with his followers. The seven local churches may have been chosen to represent successive periods in the life of the church as a whole.
Part 2 features the visions of judgment and the victory of God over the forces of evil. By extensive use of the number 7 and other mystical numbers and symbols, the book foretells (or “reveals”) a violent end of the world. First, seven seals are broken on a scroll that reveal visions of what is to come.
The first four seals reveal the Four Horsemen, often called the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. These are symbols of the evils to come at the Second Coming: a white horse (conquest), a red horse (war), a black horse (famine), and a pale horse (plague). The fifth seal concerns the vengeance of the saints, who have been “killed on account of the Word of God.” They are given white robes and told to be patient a little longer while more of their fellow servants and brothers will be killed.
The sixth seal reveals a cosmic catastrophe caused by the “wrath of the Lamb.” There is a violent earthquake, the Sun goes black, the Moon turns red as Blood, and stars fall from the sky. All the people of the earth, including the mighty, hide.
The seventh seal tells how Angels are ordered to wreak destruction upon the land, to strike and kill everyone save for 144,000 people marked with a cross on their foreheads. The angels blow their trumpets, and the earth burns, the seas turn to blood, fire falls from the sky, and water turns to wormwood. One-third of everything, including the celestial bodies, is destroyed. The Abyss opens and belches smoke and pours out locusts with scorpion tails upon the earth, Demonic forces that torture people.
Signs appear in heaven: a woman clothed with the Sun and standing on a crescent Moon, who gives birth to a boy who is taken into heaven; and a seven-headed red dragon with 10 horns and crowns of coronets. A war— Armageddon—breaks out in heaven. Michael and his angels attack the dragon, known as the Devil or Satan, who fights back with his own army of Demons. The satanic forces are defeated, driven out of heaven, and hurled to the earth. But it is not yet the end for evil, for Satan rises anew as beasts from the land and sea. The beast that rises out of the sea is like a leopard with bear paws and a lion’s mouth, and the dragon’s seven heads and 10 horns. The beast that emerges from the earth has two horns like a lamb and makes noise like a dragon.
The beast worshippers are marked with the number equivalent to its name, 666 (see SIX-SIX-SIX), while Jesus and his special 144,000—those who will ascend to heaven—are marked with the name of God. An angel warns that beast worshippers will be condemned to eternal torture and punishment (Hell). The faithful are exhorted to fear God and glorify him.
God’s wrath has not ended, however. Seven angels unleash seven plagues upon the earth, including Demon spirits who look like frogs and are able to work miracles. The whore of Babylon, the “mother of all the prostitutes and all the filthy practices on the earth,” appears riding the Satanic seven-headed, 10-horned beast. The dead are summoned to the throne of God and are judged. Part three features a vision of heaven. John is taken to a high mountain, where he looks down on the perfect holy city of Jerusalem, constructed on the number 12. God and the Lamb are in radiant glory. There are a river of life and trees of life. John sees a new heaven and a new Jerusalem. Creation is made anew. The book concludes with a call to all those who listen to “come.” The immediacy of the Last Day is a belief of many Christian groups. Even the first-century Christians interpreted the New Testament, especially the closing two verses of Revelation, to mean these events were to happen in their lifetime. St. Augustine believed that the Second Coming of Christ would happen in the year 1,000. Ever since, some religious leaders have prophesied a specific time for the final day.
Possession by the Apocalypse Archetype
The Apocalypse presented in Revelation is deeply embedded in the Western collective psyche as an archetype, one capable of possessing people and dramatically influencing their behavior, according to the Jungian analyst Edward F. Edinger. Such individuals become religious zealots and exhibit the traits of both criminals and the insane, Edinger said. Two notable examples of “possession by Apocalypse archetype” he cited are David Koresh and the Heaven’s Gate cult.
Koresh, born in 1959 as Vernon Howell, became convinced that God had revealed to him total understanding of Revelation. He identified himself with the “apocalyptic Lamb” and established a cult in Waco, Texas, the Branch Davidians, ruling it with an iron hand. In 1993, the compounded was raided by federal agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and was set on fire. Koresh was among those killed in the blaze. Heaven’s Gate, under the leadership of Marshall Applewhite and Bonnie Nettles, believed in the coming end of the world as described in Revelation and thought that they and their followers would be martyred by the beast of the abyss and would ascend to heaven. Applewhite and Nettles had identified themselves since 1972 with the “two witnesses” described in Revelation 11, the two lampstands and two olive trees in attendance to the Lord, who would prophesy for 1,260 days. Nettles died of cancer in 1985. By 1997, the group grew tired of waiting for biblical martyrdom and contemplated provoking the government to speed events along. They also believed that the resurrection cloud described in Revelation would manifest as a UFO or spaceship full of aliens. The appearance of the comet Hale-Bopp in 1997 was seen as a sign that Nettles was approaching in a ship behind the comet to collect her flock for the Rapture to heaven. The entire group of 39 persons committed mass suicide by drinking poison.
– Edinger, Edward F. Archetype of the Apocalypse: A Jungian Study of the Book of Revelation. Chicago: Open Court, 1999.
The Encyclopedia of Demons and Demonology – Written by Rosemary Ellen Guiley – Copyright © 2009 by Visionary Living, Inc.