When I was a Pastor in WCG, I asked a Presbyterian Minister what he thought about the Book of Revelation. He calmly said, "The man had good drugs."
Practically everyone on the planet knows something about the Book of Revelation. It's blood dripped, vials, trumpets, demons, death and destruction filled pages are a part and parcel of much of our culture. Every dis-aster ("bad star") in our world that is of "Biblical proportions" can end up as the final Armageddon event.
"Har-Megiddo" or "valley of Megiddo" is where all the nations of the earth will gather to fight the final battle before Jesus returns. I worked for a month at "Har-Megiddo" digging through it's history with a shovel and I can tell you, there is no room for all the nations of the earth to meet in that valley. While beautiful and the gateway between Europe and Asia to Africa, the phrase spoken to me by an Israeli when he showed me the real Mt. Zion , "We Israelis exaggerate," comes to mind. A few miles to the north in the Caves of Carmel, evidently Neanderthals liked the place as well, 200,000 years ago and 30 feet below Elijah's keister while cowering in the same caves afraid of Jezebel's wrath for his killing off her 450 prophets. Men don't fear other angry religious men, but they do fear an angry pagan woman.
The Churches of God would not survive or have much of a message were it not for the Book of Revelation and its Grandfather, the Book of Daniel. Revelation is the grease that promotes the fear needed to grow their kind of religious organization. Nothing generates income faster than "Soon" and "3-5, no more than 10 15 tops." It is being used today, perhaps, even as a script, by some powers that be to wage war and achieve devious ends by any means possible it seems at times. Humans and sociopaths play such games in high places. They know the memes that motivate.
The author of Revelation fed off Daniel for inspiration using many of the same characters and for many of the same reasons. Revelation is full of astrology and astro-theology and the Greek writer was brilliant or demented depending on one's point of view. Demented types can be brilliant I suppose. If you wish to find a woman clothed with the sun, the moon at her feet and 12 stars in her crown, you can find it on Stellarium in the summer of 69 AD by just looking up. I spare you. The astrotheological nature of the Bible and many of it's stories and characters drives some readers to livid distraction.
Daniel was written, not in the 500's BCE but in the 160s BCE to encourage the Jews during the Maccabean Revolt to hang in there until God took the Romans out. In the same way, Revelation was written to encourage Jewish Christians stuck in the same disaster 200 years later with the same Romans running Jerusalem
Revelation may have been written shortly before the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD or shortly after. Internal evidence concerning the nasty types who were and are and shall be fits the times very well. In my current view and in that of others, Vespasian was the Beast power hated by the Jewish Christians and the Apostle Paul was the False Prophet that got bounced out of Ephesus for claiming to be an Apostle but was not. The Jesus of Revelation congratulated the Ephesians for kicking him out. It may have been this embarrassment that Paul was referring to when he noted that "all Asia had forsaken him." All Asia is a lot but it never seems to dawn on Paul that it might not be them who were the problem but himself. He asked God to forgive them. Whoever the author of Revelation was, and most do not credit any John of Jesus fame with being the author, did not like the Apostle Paul as a Jewish Christian. Peter, James and John didn't like the man nor he them according to Paul's view of himself in Galatians, so this should come as no surprise. The Book of James is a direct rebuttal of Paul's book of Roman's but if you spend years in denial over the opposite views each author gives, you can come up with them all speaking the same thing, just differently.
Ellaine Pagels, one the world's leading biblical scholars, has written an excellent book on "Revelations: Visions, Prophecy and Politics in the Book of Revelation."
Pagels writes about the four big myths surrounding the Book of Revelation that most swallow hook, line and sinker in many, too many, religious organizations.
Here are what she says are four big myths about Revelation::
1. It’s about the end of the world
Anyone who has read the popular “Left Behind” novels or listened to pastors preaching about the “rapture” might see Revelation as a blow-by-blow preview of how the world will end.
Pagels, however, says the writer of Revelation was actually describing the way his own world ended.
She says the writer of Revelation may have been called John – the book is sometimes called “Book of the Revelation of Saint John the Divine” but he was not the disciple who accompanied Jesus. He was a devout Jew and mystic exiled on the island of Patmos, off the coast of present-day Greece.
“He would have been a very simple man in his clothes and dress,” Pagels says. “He may have gone from church to church preaching his message. He seems more like a traveling preacher or a prophet.”
The author of Revelation had experienced a catastrophe. He wrote his book not long after 60,000 Roman soldiers had stormed Jerusalem in 70 A.D., burned down its great temple and left the city in ruins after putting down an armed Jewish revolt.
For some of the earliest Jewish followers of Jesus, the destruction of Jerusalem was incomprehensible. They had expected Jesus to return “with power” and conquer Rome before inaugurating a new age. But Rome had conquered Jesus’ homeland instead.
The author of Revelation was trying to encourage the followers of Jesus at a time when their world seemed doomed. Think of the Winston Churchill radio broadcasts delivered to the British during the darkest days of World War II.
Revelation was an anti-Roman tract and a piece of war propaganda wrapped in one. The message: God would return and destroy the Romans who had destroyed Jerusalem.
“His primary target is Rome,” Pagels says of the book’s author. “He really is deeply angry and grieved at the Jewish war and what happened to his people.”
2. The numerals 666 stand for the devil
The 1976 horror film “The Omen” scared a lot of folks. It may have scared some theologians, too, who began encountering people whose view of Revelation comes from a Hollywood movie.
“The Omen” depicted the birth and rise of the “anti-Christ,” the cunning son of Satanwho would be known by “the mark of the beast,” 666, on his body.
Here’s the passage from Revelation that “The Omen” alluded to: “This calls for wisdom: let anyone with understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a person. Its number is six hundred sixty-six.”
Good movies, though, don’t always make good theology. Most people think 666 stands for an anti-Christ-like figure that will deceive humanity and trigger a final battle between good and evil. Some people think he’s already here.
Pagels, however, says the writer of Revelation didn’t really intend 666 as the devil’s digits. He was describing another incarnation of evil: The Roman emperor, Nero.
The arrogant and demented Nero was particularly despised by the earliest followers of Jesus, including the writer of Revelation. Nero was said to have burned followers of Jesus alive to illuminate his garden.
But the author of Revelation couldn’t safely name Nero, so he used the Jewish numerology system to spell out Nero’s imperial name, Pagels says.
Pagels says that John may have had in mind other meanings for the mark of the beast: the imperial stamp Romans used on official documents, tattoos authorizing people to engage in Roman business, or the images of Roman emperors on stamps and coins.
Since Revelation’s author writes in “the language of dreams and nightmares,” Pagels says it’s easy for outsiders to misconstrue the book’s original meaning.
Still, they take heart from Revelation’s larger message, she writes:
“…Countless people for thousands of years have been able to see their own conflicts, fears, and hopes reflected in his prophecies. And because he speaks from his convictions about divine justice, many readers have found reassurance in his conviction that there is meaning in history – even when he does not say exactly what that meaning is – and that there is hope.”
3. The writer of Revelation was a Christian
The author of Revelation hated Rome, but he also scorned another group – a group of people we would call Christians today, Pagels says.
There’s a common perception that there was a golden age of Christianity, when most Christians agreed on an uncontaminated version of the faith. Yet there was never one agreed-upon Christianity. There were always clashing visions.
Revelation reflects some of those early clashes in the church, Pagels says.
That idea isn’t new territory for Pagels. She won the National Book Award for “The Gnostic Gospels,” a 1979 book that examined a cache of newly discovered “secret” gospels of Jesus. The book, along with other work from Pagels, argues that there were other accounts of Jesus’ life that were suppressed by early church leaders because it didn’t fit with their agenda.
Mr. Claimed to be an Apostle but John and the Ephesians said "No"
The author of Revelation was like an activist crusading for traditional values. In his case, he was a devout Jew who saw Jesus as the messiah. But he didn’t like the message that the apostle Paul and other followers of Jesus were preaching.
This new message insisted that gentiles could become followers of Jesus without adopting the requirements of the Torah. It accepted women leaders, and intermarriage with gentiles, Pagels says.
The new message was a lot like what we call Christianity today.
That was too much for the author of Revelation. At one point, he calls a woman leader in an early church community a “Jezebel.” He calls one of those gentile-accepting churches a “synagogue of Satan.”
John was defending a form of Christianity that would be eclipsed by the Christians he attacked, Pagels says.
“What John of Patmos preached would have looked old-fashioned – and simply wrong to Paul’s converts…,” she writes.
The author of Revelation was a follower of Jesus, but he wasn’t what some people would call a Christian today, Pagels says.
“There’s no indication that he read Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount or that he read the gospels or Paul’s letters,” she says. “….He doesn’t even say Jesus died for your sins.”
4. There is only one Book of Revelation
There’s no other book in the Bible quite like Revelation, but there are plenty of books like Revelation that didn’t make it into the Bible, Pagels says.
Early church leaders suppressed an “astonishing” range of books that claimed to be revelations from apostles such as Peter and James. Many of these books were read and treasured by Christians throughout the Roman Empire, she says.
There was even another “Secret Revelation of John.” In this one, Jesus wasn’t a divine warrior, but someone who first appeared to the apostle Paul as a blazing light, then as a child, an old man and, some scholars say, a woman.
So why did the revelation from John of Patmos make it into the Bible, but not the others?
Pagels traces that decision largely to Bishop Athanasius, a pugnacious church leader who championed Revelation about 360 years after the death of Jesus.
Athanasius was so fiery that during his 46 years as bishop he was deposed and exiled five times. He was primarily responsible for shaping the New Testament while excluding books he labeled as hearsay, Pagels says.
Many church leaders opposed including Revelation in the New Testament. Athanasius’s predecessor said the book was “unintelligible, irrational and false.”
Athanasius, though, saw Revelation as a useful political tool. He transformed it into an attack ad against Christians who questioned him.
Rome was no longer the enemy; those who questioned church authority were the anti-Christs in Athanasius’s reading of Revelation, Pagels says.
“Athanasius interprets Revelation’s cosmic war as a vivid picture of his own crusade against heretics and reads John’s visions as a sharp warning to Christian dissidents,” she writes. “God is about to divide the saved from the damned – which now means dividing the ‘orthodox’ from ‘heretics.’ ’’
Centuries later, Revelation still divides people. Pagels calls it the strangest and most controversial book in the Bible.
Even after writing a book about it, Pagels has hardly mastered its meaning.
“The book is the hardest one in the Bible to understand,” Pagels says. “I don’t think anyone completely understands it.”
In the Religion of the Occident by Martin Larson he concludes his chapter on Revelation with:
"Revelation was the swan-song of Militant Jewish Christianity. When Jerusalem was destroyed, when Rome waxed greater and more powerful, when the False Prophet (Paul) gained more and more followers, when the book itself was proved totally false within two years, when it became evident that the Jewish Messiah-Christ would not come, the Hebrew Christians lost their virility and their cult faded under the combined assault of orthodox Judaism and of Gentile Christianity."
Prophecies are not written for too far into the future. They are written just a little into the future and expected to come to pass in the lives of the writers and readers. It's why the Book of Revelation speaks of "soon" and "things which must SHORTLY come to pass." The Apostle Paul made that same mistake with his assurances that "we who are alive and remain ..." ended in "I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course." In other words, he was wrong and it finally dawned on him. At least it dawned on him and he didn't go into endless excuse making as we see in a Dave Pack who slaughters Biblical intent at every turn and just makes stuff up making scripture mean what it never meant or ever could mean.
If the Churches of God, whether United or Living, Restored or Brotherly Lovers ever figure this out, they won't have much more left to say. Poor Bob Thiel will have to pack his Prophetic bags and go back to work. Dave Pack will have to offer his half built campus up for outsiders to use as a playground. The Journal won't have any more endless advertisements for folk to come on over and hear this or that twist on the whole end time theme.
Making Revelation mean what it never meant and a book for OUR times is a huge mistake theologically and literally. Believing that the Jesus of the Gospels is the same Christ/Jesus of Revelation is also a huge mistake. But without the Book of Revelation to be twisted and finagled to mean what a Ron Weinland, Dave Pack, Bob Thiel, Gerald Flurry and others need it to mean, we'd not have all the Witnesses, Watchers, Apostles, Joshuas, Prophets or theological nut cases we now have would we? And without it, they would have little left to preach it seems. They would be nothing...nothing at all.