Apocalyptic writings in the
Hebrew and Christian Scriptures
About apocalyptic writings:
"Revelation" is the final book in the Christian Scriptures. It describes a coming
period of great danger, destruction, and transition.
apocalypse...used a symbolic or allegorical language to convey the message about the
imminent End...Christian apocalypses are thoroughly frightening for the sadistic
punishments inflicted on the inhabitants of hell, for the inventions of extreme torture
and dismemberment. The descriptions of Heaven are scarcely less awesome, with pictures of
angel servants in the Heavens, singing eternal hymns of praise to a bejeweled Lord whose
face is too bright to be perceived." 1
Apocalyptic literature has been found throughout the Middle East. The first examples of
this theme is found in the ancient writings of Babylon and Persia. According to
theologian and author Tom Harpur,
"British orientalist Gerald Massey wrote
that Revelation itself...is really a Christian version of the Mithraic
apocalypse 'Bahman Yasht.' Massey says the latter has the same drama drawn out
as in Revelation and that all ancient Parsee or Persian sacred books referred to
the original scriptures as apocalypses." 2
Apocalyptic literature typically includes
a number of concepts:
||Time is divided into 2 ages:
||the present age is ruled by Satan and his demons
||the age to come will be ruled by God.
||the transition will occur very quickly
||the end of the present age will happen in the very near future
||the transition will include wars, plagues, famine, earthquakes and other natural disasters
||A general resurrection of the dead.|
||A final judgment.|
||Satan's supporters will be annihilated.|
||God's supporters will enter a period of peace and happiness.|
The first suggestions of an apocalypse within the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) is
found in the books of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Amos, and Micah. They discussed the
coming "day of Yahweh." Many dozens of apocalyptic books appeared
during the period 165 BCE to the destruction of the Jerusalem temple in 70 CE. One well
known example is the "War Scroll" found among the Dead Sea Scrolls and
probably written by the Essenes. Another example is preserved in the Hebrew Scriptures as
the book of Daniel.
Old Testament Apocalyptic Literature: The Book of Daniel
Chapters 1 to 6 describe Daniel's interpretation of King Nebuchadnezzar's dream; the
attempted execution of Daniel's three friends in the fiery furnace; the handwriting on the
wall of King Belshazzar's banquet hall, Daniel survival in the den of lions, and
Chapters 7 to 12 describe a series of visions that he experienced: a dream
about 4 beasts (a lion with eagles' wings, bear, leopard, and a terrible
beast); a vision of a ram and goat; a prayer of confession to and trust in
God, and a momentous vision of Israel's future, leading to the end of the age.
Beliefs differ about the interpretation of Daniel:
Conservative Christians generally believe that Daniel was captured by
the Babylonians circa 605 BCE, spent the rest of his life in Babylon, and wrote the book
circa 540 BCE. Much conservative Christian prophecy concerning the second coming of Christ
is based upon this book and in particular upon King Nebuchadnezzar's dream and Daniel's
dream of 4 beasts. The four empires in both dreams refer to the Empires of Babylon,
Medo-Persia, Greece and Rome. The Roman Empire exists in two parts. The first is the
historical Roman Empire which has since faded from the scene. The second phase has not yet risen
to power; its foundation can be seen in the European Community (EC),
later called the European Economic Community (EEC), and now referred to
as the European Union (EU). As we approached the
year 2000 CE, many sermons by conservative Christians interpreted the book of Daniel as
predicting the end of the world as we know it in the very near future. It did
not come to pass. This book is one of the most important
books in the Hebrew Scriptures to Evangelical Christians, next to Genesis.|
||Liberal Christians generally believe that the book of Daniel was written
by an unknown person circa 169 BCE. It was based on stories probably transmitted orally
from the time of the Babylonian exile until the 2nd century BCE. The 4 beasts in Daniel's
dream (Chapter 7) refer to 4 ancient civilizations:
The lion/eagle vision is a blending of the most powerful land animal and the most
powerful bird; it represented King Nebuchadnezzar's Neo-Babylonian
The bear represented the Median Empire.
The leopard symbolizes the Persian Empire.
The terrible beast represents the Seleucid Empire.
Since the book was written after the rise of the final empire, the author had the
advantage of hindsight; the book is a history of past events, not prophecy of the future.
More details on the Book of Daniel is located
elsewhere on this website.
New Testament Era Apocalyptic Literature:
Brief passages that reflect apocalyptic themes are found in:
Mark 13, sometimes called the Little Apocalypse. It is also
called the Olivet Prophecy, because it was delivered on the Mount of Olives near
Jerusalem. Jesus describes the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple in 70 CE, some 40 years
in the future. This was to be preceded by many signs: the arrival of counterfeit messiahs,
wars and rumors of wars. The disciples will be persecuted, Jerusalem will be devastated, a
desolating sacrilege will be set up in the temple, false messiahs and prophets will
perform miracles, the sun will dim, the moon will not shine, the heavens will convulse.
Jesus will return to earth with his angels to collect the faithful. Heaven and earth will
disappear. The author of Mark cautions his followers to be alert, because it will happen
to them without warning within their lifetimes. Although this is presented as a continuous
sequence of events, conservative Christians believe that the first part of the prophecy
relates to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE, whereas the remainder refers to Jesus'
second coming in our future. This material is paralleled in Matthew 24,
Luke 17:22-37, and Luke 21.
1 Corinthians 15:20-28: This passage discusses the resurrection, Jesus'
return and placing all his enemies "under his feet."
2 Corinthians 5:1-3: contains a reference to the destruction of the
1 Thessalonians 4:15-18: contains a description of the rapture, when
Jesus will return towards earth and believers will rise through the air to meet him in the
2 Thessalonians 2:1-12: describes how the "day of the Lord"
will come after the "man of lawlessness" is revealed and establishes
himself in the temple. Jesus will return and the wicked will be destroyed.
Many other Christian Apocalyptic writings have survived, including the Ascension
of Isaiah, Apocalypse of Peter, Apocalypse of Paul, Apocalypse of Thomas, and Christian Sibyllines.
Although they were very widely used among many competing versions of Christianity
during the first centuries CE, they
did not make it into the official canon.
Revelation contains more apocalyptic predictions about the future
than any other book in the Bible. It was finally accepted into the official canon,
but only after four centuries of controversy "over its authenticity."
C.M. Laymon: "The Interpreter's One-Volume Commentary on the Bible,"
Abingdon Press, Nashville, TN (1991).
Tom Harpur, "America obsessed with future apocalypse," The Toronto
Star, 2003-OCT-5, Page F7.
Copyright © 1997 to 2009, by Ontario Consultants
on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2009-NOV-14
Author: B.A. Robinson