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Genre: Apocalypse November 18, 2009

Posted by TJ Friend in Genre.
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Hello again. Today I am going to talk about the genre called Apocalypse.This is by far the most difficult to describe and understand. The clearest examples are found in Revelation and Daniel, but there are other passages that have some of the same apocalyptic characteristics. It is hard to come across a precise definition of the genre because there are no specific characteristics that are universally accepted as part of the genre. Not only is there a huge variety of texts that fit this genre, but often times an author will adapt the genre for their own purposes and so intermix it with another genre. In Revelation, for instance, John intermixes apocalypse with prophecy and epistle, and the book of Daniel has large portions of narrative.

That being said, the best definition I could find is by JJ Collins, who is one of, if not the best scholar on apocalypse. He says:
“‘Apocalypse’ is a genre of revelatory literature with a narrative framework, in which a revelation is mediated by an otherworldly being to a human recipient, disclosing a transcendent reality which is both temporal, insofar as it envisages eschatological salvation, and spatial, insofar as it involves another, supernatural world.”

This definition is almost as hard to understand as the genre itself. But, lets try and break this down. First off, the word apocalypse literally means a revelation. Therefore an apocalypse is a revelation to a person about something. The thing revealed is different in different apocalypses, but in the Bible it is God revealing His plans and purposes. Usually this is a revelation about the future, specifically the end of the world. The person receiving the revelation is taken on a journey by an “otherworldly being”, like an angel. Usually, they are taken up to heaven. The revelation is both of an action or actions and of a place. In the Biblical apocalypses, the action is God’s divine judgement and ultimate victory and the place is heaven.


Although there is no specific formula that an author must follow for something to be labeled an apocalypse, there are some general features that we can see. The most obvious is tbe prolific use of figurative language. Apocalypses are filled with metaphors and similes. They are highly visual and were meant to be read aloud. As the recipients heard the words they would be able to easily visualize the images. The imagery allowed the hearers to enter into this new world and hopefully see what was being revealed. The images used are also cataclysmic in scale. In Revelation you can see horses and swords, dragons and horns and fire. These big images help give a grand scale to the apocalypse. Using these big images helps the readers to get a picture of the grand scale and also makes it more memorable. Because of the immense use of figurative language it is best not to take these writings literally. Instead of trying to decipher what every picture and event means, we should simply try and get a general impression of what is happening or going to happen. Apocalypses, especially Revelation, are not intended as maps to the future that we can use to foretell events, instead they offer a big picture overview of life and the future so that we can gain a better perspective for the here and now.


This leads into the content of an apocalypse. This genre is usually written to people in times of crisis as an encouragement to hope. The reader is taken out of there current time and location and transported into another world where they can see the big picture. God is in control and although they may be going through hard times, God is still in control and He will bring judgement to the wicked and ultimately bring salvation to the righteous. As they read they can be encouraged to stand strong in their current situation, knowing that God will prevail. When we read these it is especially important to read them in context. As you read them try to see the overarching theme and what the big idea is. If you get too bogged down in the details you will miss the point of the genre and may end up not understanding the message which is being portrayed.

I like to think of apocalypses as photo-mosaics. Each picture has its own distinct meaning, but that meaning is superceded when all these small pictures come together to make the big picture.


No question today, just something to think about. In Rev. 7:4 it says that he sees 144,000 who are sealed. There are some who have taken this to mean that only 144,ooo people will be saved. It is hard for me to believe that out of everyone in all of history only 144,000 will make it to heaven. I think this is speaking figuratively of a completion or fullness of those who will be saved. Because this genre is filled with figurative language, we should at least consider the possibility that anything we read has the potential to be taken figuratively. But, besides this, the number is super specific. 144,ooo is 12x12x1000. In other lists and countings of people the numbers are all different. Finally, in the next few verses John sees a multitude of people which “cannot be counted”. This seems more likely to be the group of people that will be saved.



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