- Religion and Philosophy
A Terrifying Word is "Apocalypse"
The Final Day
A Tale of Almost Utter Destruction
Although we know in the back of our minds that some day we must pass on, it's not very often that we think about the entire earth passing away. We assume chances are good it won't happen in our lifetime.
But Saint John, the author of the Book of Revelation, received from God images and thoughts describing very graphically the things we find hard to imagine, such as what God looks like, what heaven is like, and how the end of the earth will come about.
Biblical scholars, who do not all agree that it was John the Apostle who wrote Revelation (also known as Apocalypse) do agree, however, that it was written a little over 60 years after Jesus died, during a time when Christians were being persecuted badly by Jews and Gentiles alike.
Tradition has it that Revelation, the final entry in the Bible, was written by John while he was on the Greek island of Patmos in the Aegean Sea, far from his native Israel.
In Revelation, not only words but also numbers play a major role. The number 7, used repeatedly in John's story, represented the 7 churches of what was called Asia, but today is territory consisting of Turkey and Greece. The 7 churches (of the new Christianity movement) were Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamos, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea.
John gives advice to these churches, noting the pros and cons of each. For example, Satan was said to dwell in Pergamos; Thyatira had a Jezebel who seduced men; Philadelphia was worthy of strong praise; but John had heavy criticism for Laodiceans, w,ho thought they were so rich they needed nothing else.
John described God as being on a throne surrounded by 24 "elders" and 4 "living creatures." God was "like a jasper and a sardius stone." Beyond that, we don't get much more by way of a physical description. Because John had this revelation, must we accept it as gospel truth? We are free to decide that and any other issue on the topic of religion, thank goodness.
John tells us what he saw next. Jesus, in the form of a lamb, took a scroll from God and prepared to read it. As 6 seals on the scroll were opened, John saw warriors on horses, including Death, and the souls of those slain for the word of God (the martyrs), then at the 6th seal, an earthquake, the darkening of the sun, and kings fearing the day of God's wrath.
An angel stopped destructive winds from blowing on the earth until the foreheads of 144,000 Hebrews (12,000 from each of 12 tribes of Israel) were "sealed." These were the faithful chosen by God to wear the stamp of God on their foreheads.
Countless people in white robes appeared (the people who had suffered "great tribulation").
All this took place as everyone in heaven worshiped God and "the Lamb" (Jesus) constantly with words of praise.
The 7th seal was opened. Angels sounded trumpets. Hail, fire, earthquakes, and poison were thrown down upon the earth, destroying one-third of all living things as the first 4 of 7 trumpets were sounded.
A fifth trumpeting brought an angel who introduced not only locusts to torment everyone who did not have the seal of God on the forehead, but also an army of angels to kill one-third of mankind.
As the 6th and 7th trumpets sounded, the revelation reached a devastating climax of destruction. John was told by an angel to eat a book that the angel gave him, and to prophesy about many people and nations. As witness to all this destruction, John was being told to write the Revelation so that people would know the past, present, and future of the world.
Two olive trees and two lamp stands near God (the 4 "living" things that were seen near His throne) had the power to bring destruction to the earth. These living things were killed by a beast from the bottomless pit (Satan) but God brought the 4 of them back to life and raised them up into heaven. So much of the Revelation is symbolism that scholars can make a life's work of explaining it, but a lot seems inexplicable.
What else did John see that he was duty-bound to write about? A woman somewhat representing the Virgin Mary gave birth to a Son, who was to rule all nations and was caught up to God (like Jesus) to avoid a dragon (like Satan) who wanted to devour the Son and kill his mother too. But with God's intervention they both escaped.
A beast came out of the sea. Another beast came out of the earth, causing everyone to worship the sea beast and have a mark on the hand or forehead representing the sea beast (Satan) and reading "666." The Revelation was becoming scary and mysterious.
The 144,000 people with the mark of God stamped on their foreheads, all male virgins, were redeemed by God. Then the Son of Man came on a cloud with a sickle and reaped the entire earth.
John describes 7 angels who appeared with 7 bowls filled with the 7 plagues, which were the wrath of God. All the wrath of God was poured out of the bowls onto the earth. This angry, vengeful God, similar to the One described in the early books of the Old Testament involving the conquest of the Promised Land, is in keeping with demanding tone the evangelical John's gospel and letters.
An angel showed John a harlot sitting on a beast. She had committed fornication with the kings of the earth and reigned over them. But she would be conquered by the Lamb. Another angel told of the complete destruction of the great city Babylon by God's wrath, comparing the place to a harlot as well.
The Lamb conquered the beast (Satan) and all evil living things, just as a warrior would do in battle. Satan was to be burned and tormented for 1,000 years down in the bottomless pit, until he would be released again into the earth to cause more trouble.
Only the good, whose names were written in the Book of Life, were spared from destruction.
In the end, the new city of Jerusalem came down from heaven. It was made of gold and precious gems, and had 12 gates for the 12 tribes of Israel. It was full of bright light from God and the Lamb. Only the good people in the Book of Life could live there.
John insists he saw all these things. Revelation, like the rest of the Bible, is pretty much limited to stories the Hebrew people could relate to. When the Bible talked about the "world" it really meant the Roman Empire as it existed 2,000 years ago. Much of the Bible appears to have been written by, for, and about Jews.
The concept of God as an invisible living entity capable of communicating with humanity, is still the generally accepted definition today. As surveys reveal that the vast majority of people have faith in God, tribute is owed to the Hebrew people for writing and preserving the Bible over the course of more than 2,500 years to the present time.
While atheists could have a hay day criticizing biblical characters who lived to almost 1,000 years old, or the wildly poetic imagination that went into creating Revelation, some of the irrefutable facts discovered by astronomers about our universe (black holes, billions of billion-stared galaxies, and mysterious invisible forces) seem even more difficult to comprehend than traditional religious beliefs.
The Apocalypse (Revelation) is unlike anything else in the Bible. It is not so much philosophical as other parts, as it is a symbolic presentation of faith in good triumphing over evil. And yet it is a pessimistic view of mankind, in that only a few good people were redeemed. It may not be of everyone's liking, but would be good reading for those who are at a stage in life where they expect the worst of their fellow humans.
Interpreting Symbolic Dreams
A symbol in a dream is something or someone who must represent something connected to the conscious, waking life of the dream. Some would say that the concept of God even is a symbol, since no one ever has been proven to have seen God.
Many people believe that a religious dream can give them guidance through life, especially in times of trouble. People have claimed that such dreams have helped them come to decisions on important matters.
Most of the Bible seems to be in the nature of parables, not clearly stated facts. Therefore, the book itself is like interpreting a dream because symbolic stories are used to make a point very indirectly and often leave readers wondering just what the point is of the parable they just read.
Prophets, who claim to see into the future, sometimes derive their convictions about things to come from their dreams. Joseph and Daniel in the Old Testament interpreted dreams for powerful leaders and won favor with them. They were perhaps the first recorded mental health practitioners to specialize in dream interpretation.
Before Pilate sentenced Jesus, his wife told him about a dream she had, and advised him not to have anything to do with Jesus, but he went ahead and got involved, and got mentioned again and again in each gospel. He ignored some good advice based on a dream.
The interpretation of a symbolic dream is a personal matter. Unlike many things that are dictated by the dogma of religion, the decisions made by religious people and everyone else are personal and private. Even religions recognize that despite their teachings, if a person doesn't commit to an ideal, all is lost. A symbolic dream might mean one thing to someone and something different to someone else. The only person who matters when it comes to figuring out the meaning is the dreamer himself or herself.
Saint John, the one Jesus supposedly loved the most, has his Apocalypse dream that he apparently believed allowed him to see God in heaven. Whether someone believes this really is what God and heaven look like is completely up to each individual in a free society based on individual rights including Freedom of Religion, which also entails the freedom to choose not to belong to any particular religious institution or follow any particular belief. Therefore, interpreting symbolic dreams is anybody's guess, although few people will care about anyone's dreams except their own.