Saturday, January 20, 2007

7 Keys to Understanding Apocalyptic Literature

Tomorrow (Jan 21) I will share 7 keys to understanding apocalyptic literature. Apocalyptic literature was a common style of writing 2000 years ago and it is the style of the Book of Revelation. For those checking in early (or checking back later), here they are:

1. Apocalyptic literature relies heavily on Old Testament symbolism and language.
Therefore a great place for understanding is Old Testament cross references.

2. Apocalyptic literature is very symbolic.
Of course, the Bible full of symbols. For example, when Jesus says I am the Gate it doesn't mean He had literal hinges. Rather He is saying that His words, life, death, resurrection, are our gateway to God. He’s the way in. While you can find symbolism in many places in the Bible, in apocalyptic literature like Revelation, symbolism is the rule not the exception.

3. There is value in stepping back to see the whole picture.
Revelation paints a picture in these fantastic, elaborate, sometimes beautiful and sometimes grotesque images to convey spiritual reality. So it helps to step back to look at the overall impression. Sometimes when I view a famous painting I stand close and I’m impressed with the detail and the technique of the artist. But it’s only when I stand back and view the painting as a whole that I’m impressed with the power of the image.

4. In apocalyptic literature numbers are concepts and not simply units.
Seven, for example, equals completeness (as in 7 days of the week). Twelve, and multiples of 12, is often a reference to God’s people (as in the 12 tribes of Israel).

5. Strange creatures communicate ideas.
Revelation is full of bizarre animals. Today we still use animals to communicate ideas in political cartoons. If after an election you see an elephant crying and a donkey dancing – or vice versa - you would know who won the election.

6. Apocalyptic literature is usually written for tough times.
Revelation was written during persecution. It is full of vivid images to depict the battle between good and evil. And ultimately it concludes with the triumph of good and the triumph of God.

7. Apocalyptic literature is meant to convey a feeling.
Ask yourself: What feeling does it promote? Sometimes we get caught up in what we would see if we were there. But part of focus of apocalyptic literature is, “What would you feel?”

There you are - 7 characteristics. How very apocalyptic of me!

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