Two questions I often get asked about the book of Revelation (including from readers of the blog) are whether the symbolism is meant to keep Roman authorities from understanding what was in the book in order to protect the author from persecution and whether the events that it describes may be coded references to what will happen in our own future. Here is what I say about each subject in my textbook discussion on the book.
Apocalypses as Underground Literature?
Some readers of the book of Revelation have taken its mysterious symbols to suggest that it was “underground” literature. The symbolic language of the book, according to this interpretation, was used to keep the governing authorities from realizing that they themselves were under attack.
There may be an element of truth in this view, but one might wonder whether a Roman administrator was likely to sit down over the weekend to read a good Christian book. It seems more plausible that the principal function of the symbolism — whether in Revelation or in other apocalypses — lay elsewhere, namely, in the character of the material itself. For indeed, the heavenly secrets are by their very nature not straightforward or banal or subject to empirical demonstration; their mystery and splendor virtually require them to be conveyed in unearthly and bizarre symbols of the higher realities of heaven.
(In addition I might point out that talking about the “enemy” of Christ as a beast that is a city “seated on seven hills” that rules the nations of the earth – well, it doesn’t take a genius on the history and geography of Rome to figure out who the enemy is…. This is not a mysterious view that would be puzzling to an outsider.)
Futuristic Interpretations of the Book of Revelation
One of the most popular ways to interpret the book of Revelation today is to read its symbolic visions as literal descriptions of what is going to transpire in our own day and age. But there are problems with this kind of approach. On the one hand,
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