Just finished re-reading The Book of Revelation this morning. This is one book I may never be able to analyze or understand satisfactorily; much of it still confuses me. Still, I wanted to share some memories, literary references, and thoughts about Revelation, since it may be some time before I read it again.
First, a note on the edition. For this re-reading of the Bible, I’ve chosen the New King James translation in single-column format. I grew up with the NIV and KJV, and I was curious about the NKJV. Compared to the KJV, I’ve noticed not many, but some, differences. Translation is a topic on its own; so far, though, I can say I’ve had a good experience reading this one.
Flashback #1 – “Revelations”
I don’t know why, but since childhood, I thought the book was called Revelations, plural. It appears this is a common misconception, according to Wikipedia. Other titles mentioned on Wikipedia are:
- The Revelation to John
- The Apocalypse of John
- The Revelation of Jesus Christ (from its opening words)
- The Apocalypse
In my Cambridge KJV bible, it’s called The Revelation of St. John the Divine. In the NKJV, it’s Revelation of Jesus Christ.
I’m afraid verse 1 must have gone over my head in the past, because, due to the NKJV’s title, this is the first time it sunk in: “The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show His servants…” Revelation is not only about Jesus, but it’s from Jesus. This is further emphasized by the beginning of the vision, in which Jesus dictates to John His letters to seven churches.
Out of habit, I think of the Ascension as containing Jesus’ last words to us before the Second Coming, but it would be more accurate to say Revelation contains those words.
Flashback #2 – “Boring”
During my teen years, I had a Christian friend whom I would sometimes chat with over Skype. (I think he actually wanted to be my boyfriend, but, being rather naive, I didn’t realize it at the time.)
I was reading Revelation one week (probably the last time I read it before this year), and I mentioned it to him. He replied with a message calling it “boring.”
To this day, I have no idea whether he was being serious, facetious, or ironic. I’d like to think ironic, because personally I’ve never found this book to be boring (far from it!).
Lord of the Flies
In the NKJV version, chapter 13 was given the subject heading “The Beast from the Sea and the Beast from the Land.” I couldn’t help but be reminded of the chapter titles from Lord of the Flies called “Beast from Air” and “Beast from Water.”
The main comparison to be drawn between the Beasts of William Golding’s novel and the Beasts of Revelation is that, while the former are psychological and the latter are physical, they both use terror and deception to gain control of people, eventually taking over their lives. I don’t know if this was intentional on Golding’s part (for one thing, his novel predates the NKJV translation), but this would not be the only biblical theme in Lord of the Flies.
Lord of the Rings
Another part of the book which jumped out to me was chapter 17, verses 12–13.
The ten horns which you saw are ten kings who have received no kingdom as yet, but they receive authority for one hour as kings with the beast. 13 These are of one mind, and they will give their power and authority to the beast. 14 These will make war with the Lamb, and the Lamb will overcome them, for He is Lord of lords and King of kings; and those who are with Him are called, chosen, and faithful.”
I thought immediately of The Lord of the Rings, in which Tolkien describes “Nine [rings] for Mortal Men, doomed to die” because their rings of power made them slaves to the Dark Lord’s One Ring. Tolkien was Catholic; I wonder if the parallel was intentional?
The White Horse
Towards the end of Revelation, there’s a beautiful scene of triumph in chapter 19:
11 Now I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse. And He who sat on him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and makes war. 12 His eyes were like a flame of fire, and on His head were many crowns. He had a name written that no one knew except Himself. 13 He was clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God. 14 And the armies in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, followed Him on white horses.
Electronica artist Adam Young (my favorite musician of all time) references his Christian faith many times in his 2011 Owl City album All Things Bright and Beautiful. In the lyrics to “Kamikaze,” what may be his most cryptic and strangely titled song, Adam includes this same scene from Revelation:
My captain on the snowy horse
Is coming back to take me home
He’ll find me fighting back the terrible force
‘Cause I’m not afraid to die alone
Cowards and Liars
In Revelation, there are encouragements to hold fast to one’s faith, and there are also warnings. This is from chapter 21, verses 7–8:
“He who overcomes shall inherit all things, and I will be his God and he shall be My son. 8 But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.”
It’s sobering to think that cowards and liars are counted among murderers and idolaters. But it’s reminiscent of Jesus’ statement that those who are ashamed of Him, He will in turn be ashamed of before God (Mark 8:34–38). Also, cowardice and lies are sometimes the root of betrayal and other kinds of crimes.
Good Friday, the memorial of Jesus’ sacrifice, is just a few days away.
One of the most tense and heartbreaking parts of the Bible is when Peter, having been previously warned by Jesus he would deny Him (and protesting he would not), does just that, not once but three times. He does this in the presence of Jesus, in the high priest’s courtyard where He was being held. At the third denial, Jesus looks at Peter. (As a child, I was most familiar with this part in the Jesus film (1979) – it really stuck with me.)
Peter is horrified by what he’s done and leaves, in grief. His repentance is sincere, and Jesus forgives him. When they are reunited after the Resurrection, there is no further mention of what happened.
Peter is one of the most relatable New Testament figures – emotional, earnest, and imperfect. His story is like the journey every Christian takes, and it gives me hope because it means there is forgiveness even for cowards who repent.