Is “destruction” the right word to apply to the winding-up scenes of the world?
From time to time my friend Markham quotes in ominous tone the opening line from “The Number of the Beast” by Iron Maiden:
Woe to thee, oh earth and sea!
I’ve never actually heard Iron Maiden sing this, but the sound of Markham quoting it comes to me from time to time. It captures well the two things I typically associate with the Apocalypse of John Better known with the synonymous title “the Revelation”, the Apocalypse is the final book in most New Testaments though, from what I can find of historians’ research, likely the first of John’s five texts to be written. : poetically beautiful imagery and predictions of woe and destruction.
In the past two weeks I’ve had many hours of driving and in that time I’ve listened to an audio recording of the King James translation of the Apocalypse repeatedly. Doing so has reinforced the poetic beauty but made me question the woe and destruction. Is the apocalypse correctly described as apocalyptic?
There is, of course, a lot of destructive imagery in the text. Indeed, very little of it has a bright and sunny feel. But there is also a lot of strange animal imagery, and I don’t know many I do know some who think that, though… people who think that means there will actually be strange animals with odd faces and lots of horns wandering around.
Are the waters that turn bitter and cause many to die talking about water and death or about living water and apostasy? Are the four horsemen bringing conquest, war, famine, and death or are they bringing spiritual captivity, contention, a famine of hearing the word of god, and spiritual death? When unraveling symbolic messages, where do you stop? Why must any of it refer to anything physical?
I don’t know what the last days shall bring. Perhaps 35 kg hail stones shall actually fall from the sky and destroy much of the earth. But as I listened to the text over and over again I found myself suspecting it might not. There is certainly much good to be gained from a deeper read.
Scripture continues to amaze me every time I read it. I am hard pressed to pen a poem with two layers of meaning, let alone the three or four layers I often find later prophets extracting from the earlier scriptures. The process of searching out those nested meanings may itself contain the greatest lesson of all.