Home » The Book of Revelation – Bird’s Eye View

The Book of Revelation – Bird’s Eye View

by Dr. Eitan Bar
3 minutes read

Once, I found myself seated in the pews of a Baptist church, absorbed in a sermon from the pastor who undertook the formidable task of elucidating the Book of Revelation. With words that carried an undercurrent of dread, he depicted apocalyptic visions of monstrous beasts about to rise up from the depths of the sea to wreak havoc and destruction on humanity. His vivid interpretation, while stirring a sense of imminent danger, seemed to serve a broader purpose — a call to moral rectification. The pastor stressed that every individual should strive to get their house in order, suggesting that such purification could serve as a shield against the beasts’ terror. His message implied a dire ultimatum: get your act together, or brace yourself for the foreboding consequences about to take place!

What is the book of Revelation all about?

C.S. Lewis’s Narnia series is a collection of masterfully woven tales brimming with symbolic meaning and allegorical narrative. While they can be enjoyed as pure fantasy stories, their true richness lies in their metaphorical depth. Reading them literally — focusing solely on the plot’s surface details — could lead to missing the profound, underlying spiritual and moral themes Lewis intended to convey. The Narnia books contain an array of symbolic characters, events, and locations that parallel Christian theology and teachings, such as Aslan representing Christ, or the eponymous wardrobe serving as a gateway to another world, symbolizing a spiritual awakening. Approaching the series with a strictly literal interpretation could not only bring us to some strange conclusions, such as the existence of witches and talking animals but will also limit the appreciation of these subtle yet powerful, metaphoric elements and thus diminish the deeper, spiritual essence of Lewis’s work.

Likewise, one should consider the Book of Revelation, crafted at the twilight of the first century AD and considered an audacious and symbolic critique of the Roman Empire that was reigning at that time. Penned by the hand of John the Revelator, this formidable prophetic document boldly proclaims Jesus Christ as the new spiritual Emperor of the world, overturning the oppressive dominance of the earthly Roman Empire. Revelation paints a vivid and creative tapestry of the metaphysical conflict between the tyrannical, beastly forces represented by the Roman Empire and the serene, peace-promoting reign of the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ. The profound message embedded within its verses is the prophetic foresight of the ultimate victory of Christ’s kingdom, His spiritual empire, over these worldly powers.

One of the remarkable aspects of Revelation is its innovative and somewhat surreal storytelling format that borrows heavily from the genre of Greek macabre. The monstrous antagonists — symbols of corruption, violence, and oppression — are ultimately vanquished by a seemingly innocent Lamb, an icon representing the crucified and resurrected Jesus. This imagery of the Lamb overcoming the Beast stands as a metaphorical testament to the spiritual triumph of Jesus over the Roman Empire, extending further as a prophetic critique of all oppressive empires yet to emerge in history.

It’s crucial to note that the language of Revelation is thoroughly imbued with symbolism. All elements, from the seven-eyed Lamb and the seven-headed dragon to the infernal lake of fire and the jewel-encrusted heavenly city, should be read as metaphors containing deeper meanings. However, these symbols aren’t just fantastical imagery; they point toward beautiful and terrifying realities. Our interpretive challenge is that we are distanced by 2,000 years from these symbols’ origin and the Jewish, Greek, and Roman cultural context. For instance, a modern observer easily understands a political cartoon featuring an innocent sheep beaten up by a snake with boxing gloves as a satirical commentary on the political scene. But this interpretation may be difficult to infer for someone 2,000 years in the future. Similarly, the monstrous symbols in Revelation primarily represent cosmic evils personified through the oppressive Roman Empire.

However, to fully appreciate Revelation, we must understand what it represents and what it doesn’t. It is not a cryptic tabloid predicting specific geopolitical events of the 21st century but a grand proclamation of Jesus Christ’s spiritual victory. Jesus’ lamb-like kingdom introduces a redeeming contrast to the beastly and violent empires of the world, offering a vision of peace, love, and justice. Contrary to some interpretations, I would be careful with interpretations of the book of Revelation as predicting the obliteration of God’s bountiful creation; instead, I would suggest reading Revelation more as a book that foresees the demise of violent, oppressive empires. After all, history does tend to repeat itself.

John, the author, courageously asserted that Jesus is Lord and Caesar is not, a belief that led to his exile to the prison island of Patmos. However, from this conviction flowed a plethora of creative images communicating a beautiful truth: “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he will reign forever and ever.” (Revelation 11:15) This divine proclamation of spiritual sovereignty is the monumental revelation encapsulated within the pages of the Book of Revelation.

If you are interested in understanding more about my process of interpreting scriptures, please check out my new book, “Read Like a Jew: 8 Rules of Basic Bible Interpretation for the Christian

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Dr. Eitan Bar
Author, Theologian, Activist