The Apocalyptic Metaphor - Part 2
Symbol and Metaphor in Revelation
The final battle between Satan and God is described in Revelation, the
last book of the New Testament. This chronicle of a prophetic vision
was written about 95 AD, but parts reflect prophetic elements of the
book of Daniel and other Old Testament books. The identity of John, the
author of Revelation, is disputed, but most experts suggest it was not
the same John who authored the Gospel and Epistles.
The prophecies in Revelation are directed to seven Christian communities
under Roman rule and primarily aimed at urging Christians to resist
the demands of Roman secular authorities. The basic theme is explained
by the commentary in the popular Protestant NIV translation:
"the final showdown between God and Satan is imminent. Satan
will increase his persecution of believers, but they must stand fast,
even to death. They are sealed against any spiritual harm and will
soon be vindicated when Christ returns, when the wicked are forever
destroyed, and when God's people enter an eternity of glory and blessedness."
Various Catholic versions put more emphasis on the ambiguous nature
of the many symbols used to describe the prophecy. As one suggests, "The
precise time of this victory lies hidden with God."
Many authors have analyzed Revelation's symbolic language. Among devout
Christians the study of the end times is called "eschatology." Here
we focus on language and imagery that has been incorporated by apocalyptic
movements and campaigns of demonization down to the present day.
According to Revelation, the exact order of what will happen in the
apocalyptic end times is written on a scroll kept by God and sealed
with seven seals. As the seals are broken, dramatic events unfold causing
seven years of tribulations. During some point in these tribulations,
the faithful are caught up in a state of rapture, protected from harm
by God--whether the faithful experience none, part, or all of the Tribulations
At the beginning of the Tribulations, the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse
emerge. They represent a deceptive conqueror seeking power (riding
a white horse); war, revolution and civil strife (riding a red horse);
natural disasters causing famine (riding a black horse); and pestilence
and death (riding a pale horse). Plagues and disasters sweep the world
signifying the day of judgment has arrived.
But much of mankind still does not, "repent of their murders,
their magic arts, their sexual immorality or their thefts," and
they continue to worship demons and false idols. A dragon attacks Heaven,
but the "great dragon was hurled down--that ancient serpent called
the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray." The dragon
gives power to two satanic beasts, the first from the sea, the second
from the earth.
The beast from the sea represents a false messiah who declares himself
God. The beast from the earth represents a false prophet who convinces
the world to worship the image of the false messiah. The beast from
the sea, appearing as the false prophet, attempts to force "everyone,
small and great, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on
his right hand or on his forehead, so that no one could buy or sell
unless he had the mark, which is the name of the beast or the number
of his name." The number for the beast is revealed as 666. An
angel, however, warns that those who accept the mark of the beast will
face God's wrath and be tormented with burning sulfur forever, while
those "who obey God's commandments and remain faithful to Jesus," and
refuse the mark of the beast, will be protected and saved. In rejecting
the false messiah and false prophet, faithful Christians suffer terrible
persecution and martyrdom.
The Antichrist leads a campaign to unite all nations into one world
government sharing a unified religion. He controls earth as a global
leader for 42 months. During this time he attempts to trick the faithful
and subvert God's authority. Three frog-like demons pop out of the
mouth of a satanic dragon and provoke a huge battle (involving forces
from Gog and Magog) at a site in the middle east known as Armageddon.
There the treacherous Antichrist and his false prophet are revealed
as representing Satan. God punishes those who followed the Antichrist,
especially those in Babylon, pictured as a great cosmopolitan city
which symbolizes all that is evil and depraved. Babylon is smashed
into three pieces and destroyed along with other corrupted cities.
A satanic beast re-appears ridden by a woman dressed in purple and
scarlet. She wears a title: "Mystery, Babylon the Great, The Mother
of Prostitutes, and of the Abominations of the Earth." This whore
of Babylon has drunk the blood of the saints, committed adultery with
the corrupt rulers, and indulged in excessive luxuries. This beast
is revealed as representing the false religion of the Antichrist that
had been acclaimed by religious and political leaders. These leaders,
who have tried to subvert and betray the faithful, receive vividly-described
God triumphs over the beast, and punishes those who have refused to
repent, especially merchants in the cities who have profited from those
who followed the Antichrist.
After the false prophet has been exposed as being satanic, the forces
of evil have been defeated, Babylon has fallen, and the unfaithful
punished, then the faithful Christians reign in peace and abundance
for a thousand years. Whether Christ returns at the beginning or the
end of the millennial reign is disputed.
At the end of the thousand years, Satan makes a last attempt to "deceive
the nations," but is cast down into the same lake of "burning
sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown." Then
the dead are judged, and the sinful of Hades are cast down into Hell,
the burning lake of fire, forever. The faithful dwell eternally with
God in the new Jerusalem.