The immediate thought most of us have when hearing the word apocalypse is destruction. From modern doomsday novels to movies like the Viet Nam era Apocalypse Now, we associate the word with war and destruction. The word apocalypse actually comes from a Greek word meaning to reveal or to uncover. So, right off the back we have to adjust our view of Biblical apocalyptic literature. In and of itself, it does not refer to disaster and hopelessness. Instead, it refers to an unveiling of something hidden. In this case, it is the final chapter in the story of Jesus Christ and His victory over sin and evil. In this paper I plan to shed some light on the understanding apocalyptic literature, the characteristics of apocalyptic literature, and how a person should interpret biblical apocalyptic literature. How to understand apocalyptic literature? Understanding the meaning of the word apocalypse is key to grasping apocalyptic literature. Apocalyptic, as a term in the common language or dictionary definition, means something that is written in a warning and threatening way. It is scary, awkward, and about boding evil. The dictionary tells us it is presaging people of imminent disaster, exaggerated predictions, or allusions of the last days. However, this is not what it meant in the original Greek or Hebrew or in the time this term was penned. What did it mean? It means “discourser of events,” and that is what it literally and truly means to us today, too. It also means an “uncovering" or "unveiling,” and “Revelation” means “discourser of the apocalypse.” Apocalyptic is not meant to scare us or keep us away from interpreting Scripture; rather, it is meant to help us understand God, victory, hope, grace, God’s plan, and that He is indeed in control. The only people who should be scared are those who reject and hate Christ. When we see how this literature operates, it will help us greatly as it discloses for us the unfolding of historical events past, present, and future, with God’s plan and purpose being the ultimate goal. There for, if we take the time and effort to understand this type of genre, it will make things clearer for us it will expose, not conceal what God has for us. We need to realize that all languages use symbols and metaphors including Greek and Hebrew. If we assume a word is literal when it is not, we will make a wrong conclusion that will lead us and others away from the correct teaching. Then, if we teach it, we lead others astray from the correct teaching all because of our pride or ignorance of not correctly interpreting Scripture or reading the Bible for all that it is worth. For example, a parable should not be treated as history, nor should poetry (both of which contain many symbols) be treated as straightforward narrative; the same goes for apocalyptic literature. Most of the apocalyptic literature in Daniel and Revelation came to the writer as inspired by the Holy Spirit in visions. These are visions that came to them from God and or an Angel, with imageries that need to be put into human based words, but no words have the power or substance to contain the meaning. Therefore, a metaphor is used, as it is able to contain far more information about the “secrets” of Heaven and End Times than what a few sentences could. These images are usually explained and known to the writer and audience, but not so much to us today (Dan. 7–12; Rev. 4:9).
What are some of the characteristics of apocalyptic literature? Apocalyptic literature is written in symbolism, poetry, and imageries, as well as in an Old Testament prophecy style (Matt. 24-25; Mark 13; Luke 21; Rev. 1:2-4; 19:9; 22:7-19), all intertwined as a textile to describe literal events but with a twist, using language with symbols that are cataclysmic, words that are exaggerated, and metaphors that may be lost to a 21st century person. Such imagery is often used for God’s judgments and the end of days. These forms of language are often combinations of narrative and...
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