April 27, 2012

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Biblical readings: Beasts in the Book of Revelation

John F. FinkNext week, for the Fourth Week of Easter, the biblical readings in the Office of Readings are from Chapters 12-18 of the Book of Revelation. However, in this column I will write about Chapter 16 and leave Chapters 17 and 18 until next week.

In Chapter 12, we get the image of “a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of 12 stars” (Rv 12:1). The woman symbolizes God’s people, first Israel and then the Christian Church.

Then we get a huge red dragon. The dragon is Satan, of course, ready to devour the Messiah when he comes from Israel. But God saves the Messiah. When the devil tries to get at the Messiah through the members of the Church, God protects them, too.

Chapter 12 also contains the great battle in heaven between the Archangel Michael and his angels against Satan, the dragon. Michael and his forces are victorious, and the devil and his demons are expelled from heaven. The devil then pursues the members of the Church.

Then a beast appears, symbolizing the Roman Empire. It has features like those in the prophet Daniel’s dream (see Dn 7). Its seven heads represent the Roman emperors, with one of the heads mortally wounded but with the wound healed. This seems to be a belief that Emperor Nero would come back to life.

Then a second beast appears. Its number is 666. Each letter of the alphabet in Hebrew, or Greek, has a numerical value. The letters in a name can be combined to come up with a number. Number 666 can be done with Caesar Nero, who probably is the one referred to here.

Chapter 14 is a respite from the bad news. We get the vision of the Lamb (Jesus) and the saints in heaven, and three angels flying overhead with good news, including the prophesy that Babylon, i.e., Rome, will fall. We also read of the harvest of the earth when the elect will be gathered in heaven while the wicked will be thrown into “the great wine press of God’s fury” (Rv 14:19).

In Chapters 15 and 16, we read about the seven last plagues that are in seven bowls. Earlier, we had the vision of seven seals on the scroll and seven trumpets announcing the opening of the seven seals.

The seven plagues, poured out of the seven bowls, like the seven seals, foreshadow the final cataclysm, a succession of calamities that are again modeled on the plagues in Egypt before Moses could lead the people in the exodus.

The sixth plague mentions the kings of the whole world, who will assemble “for the battle on the great day of God the almighty” (Rv 16:14) at Armageddon. Armageddon means “Mountain of Megiddo” where many battles were fought. Some fundamentalists believe that the final decisive battle between the forces of good and evil will be fought there in modern Israel.

The final plague is a great earthquake that will split Rome into three parts, leading to the punishment of Babylon (Rome). †

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