Why is Revelation Scary? (It shouldn’t be for believers!)
There are a ton of misconceptions, misinterpretations, and misreadings of Revelation that are extremely popular, which makes it even more difficult for believers to understand what the book means and why it is important. It is the final book of the Bible, the last book written, and in some senses one of the most important books in shaping Christian theology and history, so why are we so afraid to read it?
Revelation is the only true and full apocalypse in scripture. Apocalypse comes from a Greek word meaning “unveiling” or “revealing” which is where we get our English word “Revelation.” Despite the popular rendering there is no “s” at the end of Revelation, because it is meant to be read as a single uncovering or vision of the truth of Jesus Christ and the ultimate judgment and redemption of humanity on earth.
Why is it so different than other New Testament books?
Part of the fear comes from Revelation’s unique content in the New Testament. For a modern reader who has navigated through the straightforward stories in the Gospels, the careful theological explanations of Paul, and the memorable words of encouragement from the other letters of the New Testament, arriving at revelation is confusing. Where did all this stuff about beasts, judgments, and visions come from? We were just reading about being good teaching and being encouraged!
Is it symbolic?
Another reason Revelation scares people is because its contents are largely symbolic visions. The visions are explained in the scriptures themselves in many cases, but in many cases they are mysterious. We like clarity, not mystery! But the ancient Jewish and Gentile audiences hearing or reading this Revelation didn’t have the same issue with mystery. We do not have to read far into the prophetic books of the Old Testament to see Revelation is part of a tradition of visions and mystery that is very much in line with the rest of the Biblical prophets. In fact, Revelation directly draws much of its imagery from Old Testament prophets such as Isaiah, Ezekiel, Zechariah, Jeremiah, Hosea, and others. The interpretation of some parts of Revelation in its context is still debated just as the interpretation of the Old Testament prophecies were debated in the New Testament, Jewish tradition, and even today.
Is it about the end of the world?
But the last reason Revelation is so scary to most people is probably the most widespread: its subject. But even that is misunderstood. Most people think about Revelation as the book about the end of the world. The ultimate judgment of God. The pictures of heaven and hell. Some of those things can be found in Revelation. But the pictures we have seen made popular of heaven with winged angels, clouds, and an old white man with a long beard are not Biblical. The images of hell with fire, pitchforks, and red demons dancing around are not Biblical. Much of that imagery comes from Dante’s Divine Comedy (more commonly known because of Dante’s Inferno), which wasn’t written until hundreds of years after the Bible and was a work of fiction. There are intense images of “heaven” in Revelation, including the throne room of God, the lamb slain from the foundation of the earth, and even New Jerusalem. But the end of the book contradicts much of what people think about heaven. In the end, heaven is not focused on us getting mansions, but all the universe worshipping the Lord. And the Kingdom of God is not us living eternally away from earth, but heaven uniting with earth and God with humans in an eternal city. The images of “hell” are also not what we expect. Hell is pictured as the underworld where the dead rise from to judgment, a never-ending pit where the devil can fall for a thousand years, a figure that is judged itself along with “death and the grave”, and the most popular image of the Lake of Fire where Satan and his followers are eternally tormented. The scriptures don’t explain many details about what this lake is like; simply that it is burning with fiery sulfur. Satan is definitely not in charge there, there are not demons playing, and no horns or pitchforks mentioned at all.
Why should we not be afraid as believers?
But in order to know why Revelation should not be scary for believers at all we need to simply read the first and last chapters. Revelation tells us how we should react in Revelation 22:10-11 says:
10 And he said to me, “Do not seal the words of the prophecy of this book, for the time is at hand.
11 He who is unjust, let him be unjust still; he who is filthy, let him be filthy still; he who is righteous, let him be righteous still; he who is holy, let him be holy still.”
This was written almost 2000 years ago. The warning then was to not even seal up the Revelation so that people could read it quickly. And when they heard it, it may not change their behavior. It was meant to encourage those who were following Jesus. The Revelation of Jesus Christ is like the Gospel of John, it is meant to give believers hope by revealing God’s eternal purposes, not to scare us. Revelation is not simply a book of future prophecies. It describes through metaphors the birth of Jesus, the rebellion of Satan, and the deception of humanity right alongside battles, judgments, and the eternal city to come.
For us it can also serve as an important encouragement and part of our faith. The first century readers who were hearing it felt persecuted. They had waited for Jesus to return for decades at that point and didn’t know what to do next. They were beginning to lose hope and question their faith as we hear made clear in the first two chapters with the letters to the seven churches. And the Revelation of Jesus Christ was given to them to remind them that God had everything under control. Jesus will return. Justice will prevail. Wickedness will be punished. Satan will be defeated. People will be united. The dead will rise. The Lord will dwell with humanity. The will of God is being done behind the scenes even when we can’t see it. Our God is in control of everything, and all we have to do is be faithful to Him. It is now revealed that Jesus Christ will overcome our temporary situations ultimately, but for now we can hold onto this encouragement that He is faithful to do everything He promised.
“And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” – Luke 2:8-14
This holiday season, we’ll once again listen to preachers in pulpits, children in angel and shepherd costumes, and animated characters on TV recite those words from Luke 2 proclaiming the miracle of Christmas. And the Bible translation we’ll most likely be hearing will be the King James Version, which marks its 400th anniversary this year.
Out of the countless modern translations of the Bible now available to readers, none of them has surpassed the popularity of the King James Version. In fact, a recent survey by the American Bible Society found that 45 percent of regular Bible readers still use the King James Version.
Commissioned by England’s King James I in 1604 and finally published in 1611, the KJV is still recognized as “the authorized version.” A conference of churchmen in 1604 had proposed the new translation on the basis that existing translations “were corrupt and not answerable to the truth of the original [Hebrew and Greek text].”
That same year, the Protestant king approved a list of 54 prospective revisers, from which 47 translators were selected to work. They were divided into six committees, working separately at Westminster, Oxford, and Cambridge. Committees are typically accused of compromising their products. In this case, the joint translation was superior to the work of any previous translator.
By the time the King James Version appeared, there were vernacular translations of the Bible circulating in Protestant and Catholic Europe. But in England, King Henry VIII, styling himself as head of the church, banned and burned copies of the Bible translated by William Tyndale, fearing that an accessible Bible would make England “a nation of priests,” according to William Tyndale: A Biography by David Daniell.
For his trouble, Tyndale was strangled and burned at the stake in 1536.
Eventually Henry softened his objections, allowing one Bible in each of England’s churches. Later, King James believed that an accessible Bible might reconcile citizens of different religious persuasions, so he authorized the translation that bears his name. Ironically, its translators incorporated Tyndale’s scholarship.
The new translation appeared during the lifetime of William Shakespeare and John Donne, enhancing not only Christian revelation but English culture and expression. To this day its text is considered poetic. Familiar English expressions come from the King James Version, including “lamb to the slaughter,” “skin of our teeth” and “chariots of fire.” It is widely credited with providing Protestant churches with a unified sacred text.
The King James Version of the Bible also remains the translation of choice among African American Christians. “Because so many people are familiar with the language and poetic elegance of the KJV Bible, I tend to use it in situations calling for pastoral comfort and consolation,” says Cheryl J. Sanders, senior pastor of Third Street Church of God in Washington, D.C., and professor of Christian Ethics at Howard University. “The KJV is not merely quoted in the prayers, songs, and sermons of the African American churches — this biblical language and imagery flows from the hearts and lives of believers at prayer, in praise, and in prophetic ministry.”
William Pannell, senior professor of preaching at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, believes the KJV provides a type of spiritual and social anchor for black churches today. “The staying power of the King James Version may be understood by the ongoing need for security and certainty, especially among older church members. In a society where change seems to be constant, and worship styles move further away from recognizable sights and sounds, the language of the KJV is a welcome reminder that not everything is up for grabs.”
Jamal-Dominique Hopkins, associate professor of biblical studies at the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta, says the KJV’s prophetic importance cannot be underestimated, even though it may no longer be the most accurate of translations. “As a 17th century translation, the King James Version does not have the benefit of having relied upon the most significant manuscript finds of the 18th, 19th, and 20th century,” he explains. “This, however, does not diminish or deter the brilliance and power of the Holy Spirit in its effective use over the last 400 years. The KJV has played a part in the conversion of souls, the healing of the afflicted, the liberating of the oppressed, and has been a testament to God’s unwavering truth.”
Hopkins thinks the KJV’s enduring popularity with black Christians also reflects the African American tradition’s affinity for colorful and dynamic forms of expression. “In a positive way, we as a people are enamored with the theatrical. Theatrical forms, as a genre of cultural expression, permeate throughout the African Diaspora; this plays itself out in our music, our dialog, our literature, and our fashion — and these subsequently take center stage within many of our churches. The poetic 17th-century lingua franca of the KJV rhythmically resonates with our experience. Its language and phrasing are anything but dull.”
What translation of the Bible will you be reading this Christmas?
After 400 years, for many of us those King James angels will still be bringing “good tidings of great joy,” as they tell us exactly where to find that “babe wrapped in swaddling clothes.”
Portions of this article were reprinted from a Scripps Howard News Service column by David Yount, used through arrangement with the Newscom wire service.
Perhaps you’ve seen snippets from the new film Legion and wondered to yourself what it’s all about. You’ve seen the biblical imagery and the special effects sequences featuring the multitude of soaring angels. All very intriguing. But when the trailer for a “religious” movie also shows an old lady snarling and crawling up the wall like a demonized creature, you know something’s not quite right. Believe it or not, that little old lady is possessed by an angel. That’s right — an angel sent by God.
Welcome to the apocalyptic world of writer/director Scott Charles Stewart, where a hodge-podge of distorted biblical elements and twisted truths is the order of the day. Legion is definitely not your father’s biblical epic.
The basic premise of the entire movie is summed up in one eloquent phrase: “God is tired of all the BS.” Stewart found this statement to be so profound that it was mentioned not once, but twice. Because God is giving up on the human race, everyone must go. Nobody is worth saving this time around.
In order to carry out the extermination, God sends His angels to do His bidding, much like the Wicked Witch of the West uses her flying monkeys. These “dogs of heaven,” as they are called (yes, they wear collars), are able to possess people like demons and terrorize others. One would think God could find a more efficient method of world destruction, but I guess this film confuses His mysterious ways for silly ones.
You just never know when and where something profound will hit you between the eyes.
It happened to me recently when I watched the newest release in the Angel Wars animated series. The video is a compilation of individual but related segments that follow the adventures of the newest members of the Angel Wars team, Kira and Eli. They are not yet full Guardian Angels, so their inexperience makes for interesting viewing for kids and adults, too.