Revelation is an apocalypse (apokalypsis,1:1). It contains the sociological and literary features typical of apocalyptic literature as a literary form and the theological worldview of an apocalypse. An apocalypse is a narrative that conveys a disclosure of salvation coming from heaven to earth, usually through an angelic mediator. The salvation involves a new era and a new world.
An apocalypse usually arises in a situation of social stress when a dominant religious majority pressures a religious minority to accept religious and social change. Rather than accept a new form of religion or internal reforms, the minority affirms its traditions, values, and communal life and rejects accommodation with, or assimilation into, the dominant group. Revelation was written during the conflict between early Christians and Roman state religion. John challenged the church to intensify the value clash with Roman society, demonstrating the basic schism between the church as a religious minority and the dominant pagan society. Revelation is a chapter in the ongoing critique of Roman culture.
Literary characteristics of apocalyptic literature include visions (1:12-20), auditions (1:10-11), and journeys to heaven (4:1-2). Apocalyptic writers use symbols with special meanings including colors (6:2, 4, 5, 8), animals (13:1-15), and numbers (11:2-3; 13:18). A catalog of cosmic woes signaling the end of the old order and the dawn of a new age includes earthquakes (6:12-17), famines (6:5-6), rampant diseases (6:8), and insect invasions (9:3-11). Revelation departs from the general norm at one point: it is an apocalypse with a named author rather than using a pseudonym.
Theological motifs characteristic of the apocalyptic message include dualism and pessimism about the current age. The writer believes this world is winding down. Signs of spiritual decline include false prophets (2:20) and backsliding (2:4-5; 3:15-16). The declining current age contrasts with a coming blessed age. A moral and spatial dualism accompanies the temporal opposition as war wages between good and evil, light and darkness, God and Satan (12:9; 19:19; 20:2). Salvation comes through a Savior who brings victory and judgment (5:6-14; 19:11-21) prior to the dawn of the new creation (21:1-8).
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