By John Blake, CNN
(CNN) – The anti-Christ. The Battle of Armageddon. The dreaded Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.
You don’t have to be a student of religion to recognize references from the Book of Revelation. The last book in the Bible has fascinated readers for centuries. People who don’t even follow religion are nonetheless familiar with figures and images from Revelation.
And why not? No other New Testament book reads like Revelation. The book virtually drips with blood and reeks of sulfur. At the center of this final battle between good and evil is an action-hero-like Jesus, who is in no mood to turn the other cheek.
Elaine Pagels, one of the world’s leading biblical scholars, first read Revelation as a teenager. She read it again in writing her latest book, “Revelations: Visions, Prophecy & Politics in the Book of Revelation.”
Pagels’ book is built around a simple question: What does Revelation mean? Her answers may disturb people who see the book as a prophecy about the end of the world.
But people have clashed over the meaning of Revelation ever since it was virtually forced into the New Testament canon over the protests of some early church leaders, Pagels says.
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“There were always debates about it,” she says. “Some people said a heretic wrote it. Some said a disciple. There were always people who loved and championed it.”
The debate persists. Pagels adds to it by challenging some of the common assumptions about Revelation.
Here are what she says are four big myths about Revelation::
1. It’s about the end of the world
Anyone who has read the popular “Left Behind” novels or listened to pastors preaching about the “rapture” might see Revelation as a blow-by-blow preview of how the world will end.
Pagels, however, says the writer of Revelation was actually describing the way his own world ended.
She says the writer of Revelation may have been called John – the book is sometimes called “Book of the Revelation of Saint John the Divine” but he was not the disciple who accompanied Jesus. He was a devout Jew and mystic exiled on the island of Patmos, off the coast of present-day Greece.
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“He would have been a very simple man in his clothes and dress,” Pagels says. “He may have gone from church to church preaching his message. He seems more like a traveling preacher or a prophet.”
The author of Revelation had experienced a catastrophe. He wrote his book not long after 60,000 Roman soldiers had stormed Jerusalem in 70 A.D., burned down its great temple and left the city in ruins after putting down an armed Jewish revolt.
For some of the earliest Jewish followers of Jesus, the destruction of Jerusalem was incomprehensible. They had expected Jesus to return “with power” and conquer Rome before inaugurating a new age. But Rome had conquered Jesus’ homeland instead.
The author of Revelation was trying to encourage the followers of Jesus at a time when their world seemed doomed. Think of the Winston Churchill radio broadcasts delivered to the British during the darkest days of World War II.
Revelation was an anti-Roman tract and a piece of war propaganda wrapped in one. The message: God would return and destroy the Romans who had destroyed Jerusalem.
“His primary target is Rome,” Pagels says of the book’s author. “He really is deeply angry and grieved at the Jewish war and what happened to his people.”
2. The numerals 666 stand for the devil
The 1976 horror film “The Omen” scared a lot of folks. It may have scared some theologians, too, who began encountering people whose view of Revelation comes from a Hollywood movie.
“The Omen” depicted the birth and rise of the “anti-Christ,” the cunning son of Satan who would be known by “the mark of the beast,” 666, on his body.
Here’s the passage from Revelation that “The Omen” alluded to: “This calls for wisdom: let anyone with understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a person. Its number is six hundred sixty-six.”
Good movies, though, don’t always make good theology. Most people think 666 stands for an anti-Christ-like figure that will deceive humanity and trigger a final battle between good and evil. Some people think he’s already here.
Pagels, however, says the writer of Revelation didn’t really intend 666 as the devil’s digits. He was describing another incarnation of evil: The Roman emperor, Nero.
The arrogant and demented Nero was particularly despised by the earliest followers of Jesus, including the writer of Revelation. Nero was said to have burned followers of Jesus alive to illuminate his garden.
But the author of Revelation couldn’t safely name Nero, so he used the Jewish numerology system to spell out Nero’s imperial name, Pagels says.
Pagels says that John may have had in mind other meanings for the mark of the beast: the imperial stamp Romans used on official documents, tattoos authorizing people to engage in Roman business, or the images of Roman emperors on stamps and coins.
Since Revelation’s author writes in “the language of dreams and nightmares,” Pagels says it’s easy for outsiders to misconstrue the book’s original meaning.
Still, they take heart from Revelation’s larger message, she writes:
“…Countless people for thousands of years have been able to see their own conflicts, fears, and hopes reflected in his prophecies. And because he speaks from his convictions about divine justice, many readers have found reassurance in his conviction that there is meaning in history – even when he does not say exactly what that meaning is – and that there is hope.”
3. The writer of Revelation was a Christian
The author of Revelation hated Rome, but he also scorned another group – a group of people we would call Christians today, Pagels says.
There’s a common perception that there was a golden age of Christianity, when most Christians agreed on an uncontaminated version of the faith. Yet there was never one agreed-upon Christianity. There were always clashing visions.
Revelation reflects some of those early clashes in the church, Pagels says.
That idea isn’t new territory for Pagels. She won the National Book Award for “The Gnostic Gospels,” a 1979 book that examined a cache of newly discovered “secret” gospels of Jesus. The book, along with other work from Pagels, argues that there were other accounts of Jesus’ life that were suppressed by early church leaders because it didn’t fit with their agenda.
The author of Revelation was like an activist crusading for traditional values. In his case, he was a devout Jew who saw Jesus as the messiah. But he didn’t like the message that the apostle Paul and other followers of Jesus were preaching.
This new message insisted that gentiles could become followers of Jesus without adopting the requirements of the Torah. It accepted women leaders, and intermarriage with gentiles, Pagels says.
The new message was a lot like what we call Christianity today.
That was too much for the author of Revelation. At one point, he calls a woman leader in an early church community a “Jezebel.” He calls one of those gentile-accepting churches a “synagogue of Satan.”
John was defending a form of Christianity that would be eclipsed by the Christians he attacked, Pagels says.
“What John of Patmos preached would have looked old-fashioned – and simply wrong to Paul’s converts…,” she writes.
The author of Revelation was a follower of Jesus, but he wasn’t what some people would call a Christian today, Pagels says.
“There’s no indication that he read Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount or that he read the gospels or Paul’s letters,” she says. “….He doesn’t even say Jesus died for your sins.”
4. There is only one Book of Revelation
There’s no other book in the Bible quite like Revelation, but there are plenty of books like Revelation that didn’t make it into the Bible, Pagels says.
Early church leaders suppressed an “astonishing” range of books that claimed to be revelations from apostles such as Peter and James. Many of these books were read and treasured by Christians throughout the Roman Empire, she says.
There was even another “Secret Revelation of John.” In this one, Jesus wasn’t a divine warrior, but someone who first appeared to the apostle Paul as a blazing light, then as a child, an old man and, some scholars say, a woman.
So why did the revelation from John of Patmos make it into the Bible, but not the others?
Pagels traces that decision largely to Bishop Athanasius, a pugnacious church leader who championed Revelation about 360 years after the death of Jesus.
Athanasius was so fiery that during his 46 years as bishop he was deposed and exiled five times. He was primarily responsible for shaping the New Testament while excluding books he labeled as hearsay, Pagels says.
Many church leaders opposed including Revelation in the New Testament. Athanasius’s predecessor said the book was “unintelligible, irrational and false.”
Athanasius, though, saw Revelation as a useful political tool. He transformed it into an attack ad against Christians who questioned him.
Rome was no longer the enemy; those who questioned church authority were the anti-Christs in Athanasius’s reading of Revelation, Pagels says.
“Athanasius interprets Revelation’s cosmic war as a vivid picture of his own crusade against heretics and reads John’s visions as a sharp warning to Christian dissidents,” she writes. “God is about to divide the saved from the damned – which now means dividing the ‘orthodox’ from ‘heretics.’ ’’
Centuries later, Revelation still divides people. Pagels calls it the strangest and most controversial book in the Bible.
Even after writing a book about it, Pagels has hardly mastered its meaning.
“The book is the hardest one in the Bible to understand,” Pagels says. “I don’t think anyone completely understands it.”
Please listen so when you're in hell don't say that no one told you:
no thank you.
Nah. Personal opinions aren't the same thing as facts. Even if they "sound good" to you.
Religion like goverment was created to keep order in society. Seeing that Science shows us a pretty good picture of what happened in the past and what could happen in the future and that Religion is driven by faith in the unknown I wish you all luck. I myself belive live a good life do the best you can and when the end comes it is the end. These writings are of men and their opinions.
April Fools ...
Revelation 1, 1-8:
The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him, to shew unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass; and he sent and signified it by his angel unto his servant John: 2 Who bare record of the word of God, and of the testimony of Jesus Christ, and of all things that he saw. 3 Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written therein: for the time is at hand. 4 John to the seven churches which are in Asia: Grace be unto you, and peace, from him which is, and which was, and which is to come; and from the seven Spirits which are before his throne; 5 And from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, and the first begotten of the dead, and the prince of the kings of the earth. Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood, 6 And hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father; to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen. 7 Behold, he cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see him, and they also which pierced him: and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of him. Even so, Amen. 8 I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending, saith the Lord, which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty.
The great topic of the Bible beside salvation is the suffering of the Christian Church, which she has to bear in an antichristian world. A man, who remains in his redeemer Christ, will face hostility in this godless world.
However, Jesus Christ, who has suffered like no one before him and after him, has overcome the demonic world. Christ had a free human will and a divine will (two wills). Despite cross, rejection and suffering Jesus remained "in God". The great merit of Jesus was it that he remained in God, although he had to bear superhuman sufferings. Christ has rolled back the Fall of Adam.
Adam abandoned God voluntarily, although he was made in a blissful state. Jesus remained "in God" despite infinite sufferings. Hence, Jesus is a "new Adam" or the first born of a "NEW MANKIND", a mankind, which has returned to its Creator and loves him on every condition, even if she has to suffer. Jesus is the beginning of a new creation, a creation in God.
Jesus Christ is yet in the "Future of the Lord". Jesus has overcome the profane world by the Holy Spirit and God has honored him and confirmed him with the resurrection from the death and has made him ruler of the universe. The meek and humble Jesus, who sweat blood in the garden Gethsemane, because of endless trouble and horror, is ruler of the universe right now and his dominion can manifest very soon.
"Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood, 6 And hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father; to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen."
God, the Father, delivered God, the Son, for the sake of our sins. He raised him from the dead for our justification. Everybody, who believes that and gets sacramentally baptized, becomes righteous: His sins are forgiven and he lives a life of practical righteousness. Despite the attacks of the godless world, the believer remains within his saviour and does works of righteousness. The meek and humble people on earth living in righteousness, will finally manifest as kings and priests of the Most High. God will reward them with very high ranks, because they kept the faith on a hostile, godless earth.
The majority of the mankind will never believe in Christ, at least not in the true Christ. The majority will believe in the false Christ or Antichrist (The Wicked, Mohammed, the popes and others).
The revelation is nothing else than an account of the intergalactic war, which blusters on earth between the true Christian Church and the profane world (secular society, churches, which have turned apostate, false religions like Islam, cults like Mormons).
God tells the true believers through the Revelation: "Don't become worldly again, but remain faithful; I have overcome the world and will come soon and raise you to glory!"
Way too long. Didn't read a word.
Just as well. I did. complete waste of time.
Yeah. Brevity is the soul of wit.
Which illuminates, to some degree, the author of the above "comment".
What difference does it make what this person says. The nutjobs are always going to read whatever they want to into the Bible. It's the mystic version of puffy clouds or tea leaves. You see whatever you want to see in it.
Personally I wish the rapture was true. We'd be better off if all the people who believe that nonsense we're suddenly whisked away.
The people who wrote the bible weren't even that smart, so it's incredible to me that so many people still buy that garbage these days. But Atheism has never been higher.
I think it's difficult to judge whether they were smart or not: remember, there are the original authors, then there are the redactors, then there are the translators. Often the original authors had one political goal in mind, while the redactors had another. In the Old Testament, two different versions were even "merged"- and you can tell pretty easily when and where.
The Bible is an unintelligible mess, but that doesn't reflect on the men that created it; it's just been through the wringer a few too many times.
I pray God will not harden the hearts of those who are in disbelief of you! His mercies endure forever! God I pray that they too will see you for who you are. God warns against those who take away or add to the scriptures!
"I warn everyone who hears the prophetic words in this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, and if anyone takes away from the words in this prophetic book, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city described in this book." Revelation 22:18
In Matthew 24 Jesus talks about the end of the age, and says those times there will be many false teachers and false prophets. These false teachers who deny Rev being inspired truth also deny Matthew 24 being about the end times.
Their end will be what their deeds deserve.
Signs of Christ’s Return
1 Jesus came out from the temple and was going away [a]when His disciples came up to point out the temple buildings to Him. 2 And He said to them, “Do you not see all these things? Truly I say to you, not one stone here will be left upon another, which will not be torn down.”
3 As He was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to Him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things happen, and what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the [b]end of the age?”
4 And Jesus answered and said to them, “See to it that no one misleads you. 5 For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am the [c]Christ,’ and will mislead many. 6 You will be hearing of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not frightened, for those things must take place, but that is not yet the end. 7 For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and in various places there will be famines and earthquakes. 8 But all these things are merely the beginning of birth pangs.
9 “Then they will deliver you to tribulation, and will kill you, and you will be hated by all nations because of My name. 10 At that time many will [d]fall away and will [e]betray one another and hate one another. 11 Many false prophets will arise and will mislead many. 12 Because lawlessness is increased, [f]most people’s love will grow cold. 13 But the one who endures to the end, he will be saved. 14 This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole [g]world as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come.
15 “Therefore when you see the ABOMINATION OF DESOLATION which was spoken of through Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand), 16 then those who are in Judea must flee to the mountains. 17 [h]Whoever is on the housetop must not go down to get the things out that are in his house. 18 [i]Whoever is in the field must not turn back to get his cloak. 19 But woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days! 20 But pray that your flight will not be in the winter, or on a Sabbath. 21 For then there will be a great tribulation, such as has not occurred since the beginning of the world until now, nor ever will. 22 Unless those days had been cut short, no [j]life would have been saved; but for the sake of the [k]elect those days will be cut short. 23 Then if anyone says to you, ‘Behold, here is the [l]Christ,’ or ‘[m]There He is,’ do not believe him. 24 For false Christs and false prophets will arise and will [n]show great [o]signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if possible, even the [p]elect. 25 Behold, I have told you in advance. 26 So if they say to you, ‘Behold, He is in the wilderness,’ do not go out, or, ‘Behold, He is in the inner rooms,’ do not believe them. 27 For just as the lightning comes from the east and flashes even to the west, so will the coming of the Son of Man be. 28 Wherever the corpse is, there the [q]vultures will gather.
The Glorious Return
29 “But immediately after the tribulation of those days THE SUN WILL BE DARKENED, AND THE MOON WILL NOT GIVE ITS LIGHT, AND THE STARS WILL FALL from [r]the sky, and the powers of [s]the heavens will be shaken. 30 And then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the SON OF MAN COMING ON THE CLOUDS OF THE SKY with power and great glory. 31 And He will send forth His angels with A GREAT TRUMPET and THEY WILL GATHER TOGETHER His [t]elect from the four winds, from one end of the sky to the other.
Parable of the Fig Tree
32 “Now learn the parable from the fig tree: when its branch has already become tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near; 33 so, you too, when you see all these things, [u]recognize that [v]He is near, right at the [w]door. 34 Truly I say to you, this [x]generation will not pass away until all these things take place. 35 Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away.
36 “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone. 37 For [y]the coming of the Son of Man will be just like the days of Noah. 38 For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, 39 and they did not [z]understand until the flood came and took them all away; so will the coming of the Son of Man be. 40 Then there will be two men in the field; one [aa]will be taken and one [ab]will be left. 41 Two women will be grinding at the [ac]mill; one [ad]will be taken and one [ae]will be left.
It's all myths. The whole Bible, nothing but stories handed down from mere people.
... and in a time when people believed the Earth was flat. Yeah, I'm not buying it either.
A lot of people smarter than I (and perhaps even you, but I don't know you, so you may be smarter than they), including scientists and learned people of all eras, believe(d) in God and even in the "myths" you claim the Bible contains. Is the Bible true? Is it a collection of myths? Whether you believe or not is a matter of faith, either way. I acknowledge that what I believe is based upon faith. That doesn't make it wrong, only unprovable.
I believe that it is wrong to attack people or belittle them based upon what they believe, even if you disagree. I'd never do that even to those I disagree with the most, although I might try to persuade them of what I believe. If you believe what you believe is true (and why would anyone believe something they didn't think was true?) would you not want others to believe the same thing, especially when your faith is fulfilling to your life as mine is to me?
The Bible is very blunt about every issue, those who can't accept it then don't. Simple as that.
This is the most important book in human history.
Jesus (God) is the author of the entire Bible. If people say he was a good man, that didnt lie, or never sinned, or done anything wrong; essentially perfect...then why do you not believe also in his word?
Some people are weird and tend to contradict themselves without realizing it.
yes that's right. God took a pencil to paper and wrote a book. OK, lunatic.
"If people say he was a good man, that didnt lie, or never sinned, or done anything wrong; essentially perfect...then why do you not believe also in his word?"
Because I never said that. He was not essentially perfect. He was a human being, just like the rest of us, only more so (mostly in a good way). Just because other people say he was perfect doesn't make it so.
"Some people are weird and tend to contradict themselves without realizing it."
You said it, I didn't. Are you familiar with the concept of self satire?
Because, when most of us say "he was a good man", we aren't saying that he never lied, never sinned or never did anything wrong...much less saying that he was 'perfect'.
Heck, Jesus cursed a fig tree because the darned thing wasn't bearing fruit for him out of season. So, instead of making figs appear, he 'punished' a frickin' tree. Now it would *never* have fruit, so no one passing by *in season* would be able to do what Jesus wanted to do right then...eat a fig. "May no one ever eat fruit from you again." How "perfect" of the guy.
And, no...doing this was *not* some sort of great object lesson. "Pray and you'll get what you prayed for"??? Yeah, right. You don't think it would have been more successful if Jesus had simply prayed for figs to appear??
Christianity is a fraud. They claim they were the first religion when evidence provided by the ancient monuments of Egypt, Inca, Aztec, Mayans, and many others prove otherwise.
Totally agree. It's totally for the weakminded.
Christianity does not claim to be the first religion. So your whole argument is based on misinformation. In addition, the Inca, Aztec, and Maya do not date back before the foundation of Christianity, so their monuments prove nothing vis a vis Christianity.
Want to try again?
Joe you couldn't be more misinformed. Go study a history book. Christianity is a fraud.
Poor Elaine Pagels. Destined to spend her career casting pearls before swine.
There is no reason to believe in the bible that doesn't come from the bible itself. It's a scam.
The paper napkin religion is the only true religion because it says so on this paper napkin.
follow god directly.. never a religion that dictates this direct connection. the beast with seven heads is a deceptive world leader who will interfere
How do you follow god directly?
Pagels trying to interpret the Book of Revelations on her own ways not on the ways of the Holy Spirit. You need wisdom from above & not from this world so you will understand it.
If you really look at your comment honestly and carefully, you'll find that it makes no sense.
Who are you to say that the holy spirit was not involved in the years of research and contemplation it took Pagels to create this book? YOU know intuitively the truth, but one of the greatest living biblical scholars doesn't?
Here I am, sitting on a planet orbiting the star Epsilon Eridani, reading all the comments you make on CNN and other forums and the first thought that comes to mind is: what was I thinking when I created you? When I created the animals I was happy! I should have left it at that. But nooo! I had to show that Lucifer I could do him one better. After all all he did is create a snake. Now, as I watch humans scoop the poop after dogs, perhaps I should have put the dogs in charge. Now, that is a good idea! At least they don`t run for President and say stupid things all the time.
Like. Where's my like button?
You are living proof that God has a sense of humor. Think about it.
Someone else trying to interpret the new Testament..You do realize the New Testament is an interpretation don't you? Interpreted from the Greek Language and context from 2000 years ago.
Another idiot twisting the Bible into what they think it should mean.
Pagels reads all her sources in the original languages–Koine Greek, Hebrew, Latin, etc. Do you?
You mean like Christians do?
Here is my issue with god. He is suppose to be all knowing, that he knows the fate of evey person born and yet to be born. So from the time humans found religion until present day we are talking about billions and billions of people who have lived and died. If according to christian doctrine that jesus is the only way to heaven, then what happens to all of those other people who believed in other religions or none at all? Billions and billions of people in a lake of fire? And if god knew this their fate why start this whole process to begin with, knowing that this much suffering would take place. What does that say about god?
Here is a theory: God sent prophets down here at different times and to different people. People, being stupid and hard headed, thought God only spoke to them. The message is actually the same told to different people in different languages at different times. People thought the different messages were different religions. There is only one God. Same God for all. Call him what you will. It doesn`t matter.
"... what happens to all of those other people who believed in other religions or none at all ..."
Apparently, they're screwed. You know, by a merciful god and all that.
Here's another "theory": men created god, and they naturally see him through the prism of their own fears, needs, desires and shortcomings. Additionally, some see him as a useful political tool. This is why he appears so capricious and contradictory: there are many "gods" – one for each human who ever believed.
Men created God: and men continuously recreate him.
It is a matter of faith. No one forces another in what he should believe. You remain free to follow your own beliefs, of course, as our government guarantees. My own belief is that God is God, and I am not God. I believe that He reveals Himself to everyone, and asks little more than that we acknowledge that He is God and that we love Him. I believe that we all are offered an opportunity to believe or not. That becomes our choice. As for the lake of fire, I cannot say whether it exists in a literal sense, or as many say, represents the condition of one who willingly rejects God. If you don't believe, that is your right, of course, and the beliefs of others should not bother you, since you disagree with them.
I refuse to worship anything that demands I worship it or I'll be punished. That's like beating someone to make them love you.
Book of Daniel is scariest bible ever. Even if there's no RELIGION. Religious temple get destroyed and turn into flames.
But seriously: if there are any Christians out there who are interested in learning more about the origins of the Bible, I highly recommend "Who Wrote the Bible?" by Bart Ehrman. He doesn't take a position on religion or god, he merely shares some of the scholarly thinking on how and when the Bible's writings came about... as well as who probably wrote them.
A little knowledge won't hurt you.
"A little knowledge won't hurt you." Couldn't agree more. Put down the fairy tales folks and study real history, math, science, etc.
The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.