the Book of Revelation — prophecy about the future

“Recently, some scholars have decided to interpret the Book of Revelation as if it contains no prophecy about the future at all, as if the book were merely an expression of the emotions of the early Christian community as they were suffering persecution. These scholars, by an interpretation that is in conflict with the witness of many holy persons in the history of Christianity, are attempting to take away the true meaning of this book from the faithful. The book itself states that it is a book of prophecy (Rev 22:19) and a book about the future:

[Revelation 1]
{1:1} The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave to him, in order to make known to his servants the things that must soon occur, and which he signified by sending his Angel to his servant John;
{1:2} he has offered testimony to the Word of God, and whatever he saw is the testimony of Jesus Christ.
{1:3} Blessed is he who reads or hears the words of this Prophecy, and who keeps the things that have been written in it. For the time is near.

“So the book called Revelation (also called the Apocalypse to John) is a book of prophecy about the future. But I believe that these future events are about to begin. The following is a summary of my speculative eschatology about the tribulation (the Apocalypse). Keep in mind that these dates and descriptions of events are not infallible. I have been mistaken in the past about the dating of these events, particularly the date for the start of these events. And I have revised these dates and events a number of times as I have continued to study and write on this subject.

“In the present book, I am focusing on practical considerations for life during the afflictions of the tribulation.” (Conte, Apocalypse Survival Guide for Christians)

There are a number of examples of this attempt to portray the Book of Revelation as non-prophecy, as if it did not foretell the future at all.

Scott Hahn has a well-known book, The Lamb’s Supper, in which he interprets the Book of Revelation as a description of the Mass. The various figures in the Book are applied to the Mass, not to the future. Now he allows that the Book may also refer to the future, but the effect of his interpretation is to ask the reader to ignore the meaning that applies to the future. I don’t agree that the Book of Revelation is about the Mass.

The result of that interpretation is to give the Book a meaning that is safe, easy to accept, non-threatening. Instead of a Book that describes the worst sufferings that the Church and the world will ever endure, it becomes a clever description: no obligations, no impending difficulties, no Cross. This approach to the Book of Revelation reminds me of the trend in liturgical music today. All the songs are upbeat happy songs. They portray Christianity without the Crucifixion, love of neighbor without any difficulties, love of God without any self-denial.

Another approach to the Book of Revelation, which attempts to take away its prophetic nature and its admonition of future sufferings, is found in the offensive document called “The Gift of Scripture” by the Bishops’ Conferences of England and Wales, and of Scotland. From my critical review of the document:

“GS states that Book of Daniel contains “enigmatic visions,” as if these cannot be understood by the reader. And the same document subtly suggests that the Book of Daniel does not truly predict future events, but was written merely to reassure an oppressed and persecuted people (GS, p. 32). And, when GS later refers to the Book of Revelation, it again, more openly, asserts that the future is not found within this text. If there are no true predictions of future events in Daniel or in Revelation, then one would have to conclude that there were no true predictions of future events in the Bible as a whole.” (A Critical Review of the Document ‘The Gift of Scripture’)

The claim is made that eschatological passages in the Bible were merely written to express the sufferings of the community in which the book was written. It is seen as an expression of the feelings and hopes of an oppressed people, not as a Divine foretelling of the future. The problem with this interpretation is that the Old Testament predicts and promises the arrival of the Messiah, even predicting details of His life and death (entering Jerusalem on a donkey, having His side pierced, distributing His clothing by lot, etc.). And Jesus Himself gave an eschatological discourse found in Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21. Moreover, the Book of Revelation describes itself as a Revelation from Jesus Himself about the future.

The claim is made that the eschatological discourse of Jesus was merely a description of the Fall of Jerusalem, during the war between the Jews and the Romans, in the first century A.D. But the discourse explicitly talks about the tribulation, which the CCC says is still in the future. And the discourse ends with a discussion of the Return of Jesus after the tribulation. So such an interpretation does not fit what Jesus actually said.

Some commentators go so far as to claim that all the Gospels must have been written after the Fall of Jerusalem, because they both interpret the eschatological discourse of Jesus as referring only to the Fall of Jerusalem, and because they lack the faith to believe that Jesus actually predicted even that future event. So they explain the discourse as if it were not said by Jesus, but as if it were instead words that the authors of the Gospels claimed that He said, in order to explain an event that had recently happened.

All of these approaches to the Book of Revelation and the other eschatological passages of Sacred Scripture will be put to shame once the tribulation begins.

Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and Bible translator

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