Encountering an Apocalyptic World – Part 1

Lord willing, on February 26, 2012 CHBC will be starting our journey through the Book of Revelation. Therefore, I thought I would try to put out some posts ahead of time to help us to encounter the literary genre of the Book of Revelation; apocalyptic.

Stephen L. Cook, an Associate Professor of Old Testament at Virginia Theological Seminary, authored The Apocalyptic Literature. In his first chapter writes,

Entering an apocalyptic world within the Bible, the reader cannot remain neutral for long. Battle lines are drawn between the forces of good and evil. The stakes are profound, and they force a quick choosing of sides.

One’s daily routines and encounters take on new meaning, framed against a supernatural battle. It is hard not to become engaged with the present, earthly life when a purposeful, cosmic backdrop is revealed to lie behind it. Against such a backdrop, focused by the Bible’s apocalyptic literature, individual existence brims with urgency and vibrancy.

… These worlds provoke readers’ imaginations with highly metaphorical and mythological language. This colorful elastic language is intrinsically flexible, encompassing diverse human situation and challenges and revealing heaven’s cosmic perspective on them all.

The vista is breathtaking and enlivening but subject to much abuse. Too often, in fact, people read apocalyptic literature with misguided motives and interests. Eager for clairvoyant speculation or sensational entertainment, they miss the texts’ real import. Apocalyptic texts aim much more to clarify the patterns and conflicts at stake in present experience than to speculate about the details of the future. Wakefulness about God’s interests and goals and their impact on present experience is the core concern of apocalyptic texts.

How should we define “Apocalypticism?” Cook continues,

The term apocalyptic, given to the biblical worlds before us, comes from the Greek word apokalyptein, which means, “uncover, reveal.” The apocalyptic worlds of the Bible peer beyond the mundane political and social realities, revealing a new world coming. Profoundly realistic about humanity’s limitations and shortcomings, the literature recognizes that this better world, while a fundamental human longing, will never come as a human achievement. It comes only with the advent of God’s sovereign rule on earth.

“Apocalyptic,” as a label, fits several different phenomena. it applies to a body of literature (a genre), to a particular type of religious imagination (a worldview), and to a specific sort of group within society (a social entity).

It is worth noting that while CHBC will primarily be concerned with the genre of apocalyptic literature, apocalyptic views are most often held by a apocalyptic or millennial groups, rather than individuals. This is because an apocalyptic group shares a common view of the world around them. Such groups may or may not produce writings. However, if they do, the writing reflect the groups imagination, and are termed apocalyptic literature. This means that the Book of Revelation written by John was written to, and held by a community of people.

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