There are periods in history in which apocalyptic thinking comes to the forefront of some people’s minds as they are convinced the end of the world (or at least the world as they know it) is imminent. Such apocalyptic rhetoric is often popular and can catch on like wildfire and consume the attention of groups of people. This thinking has become common even in the extremely polarized culture of American politics in which both Democrats and Republicans want to so demonize each other that they try to convince their base that the election of “the other party” will bring on a cataclysmic catastrophe for the country. Certain forms of American Protestantism with its literal reading of Scripture sometimes makes the book of Revelation its centerpiece for interpreting current events. It can strike a fervor in the hearts of some believers, even if it is completely misguided.
The Orthodox Study Bible offers a few thoughts on reading Revelation or apocalyptic literature in general that might help us see the literature in a bigger context which can help us understand the text and the see the context for what it is.
“The apocalyptic texts are offered to Christians in every generation to encourage them in their struggles against sin, the principalities and powers of darkness in this world (Eph 6:12) and the fear of death. These writings assure us that even in the midst of the cosmic cataclysms and battles against evil powers occurring just before Christ returns—the time of “great tribulation” (Mt 24:21)—the Lord will strengthen and guide His people (Mt 28:20), bringing them to final victory over all forces of evil (Rev 20:7–10). ” (Kindle Loc. 65918-23)
“St. Cyril of Jerusalem explains that as in the persecutions, God will again permit these things. Why? Not because He wants satanic power to hinder His people, but because He desires to crown His own champions for their patient endurance—just as He did His prophets and apostles—so that having toiled for a little while, they may inherit the eternal kingdom of Heaven.” (Kindle Loc. 65924-26)
“So the essential purpose of the apocalyptic writings is to encourage the faithful to be full of hope and prepared to persevere to the end, no matter what happens (Mt 24:3–13; Lk 21:25–28). All are inspired to look through the darkness of the present age and to behold the ultimate victory of Christ and the joyful consummation that awaits His Bride—the Church—who, through Her sacraments, has prepared herself for the coming of the Lord (2Pt 3:7–14; Tts 2:11–14). The closing words of the New Testament express this very sense of expectation: “Even so, come, Lord Jesus” (Rev 22:20).” (Kindle Loc. 65926-31)
Reading the book of Revelation or any of the apocalyptic literature is not meant to induce panic or offer a panacea for all that ails the world. The literature is a reminder that no matter what happens in the world or in history, God is the Lord and has revealed Himself to us! It is to give us faith and hope so that we can persevere, trusting God in all circumstances, even when darkness seems to prevent us from seeing the Light. Throughout Great Lent, we pray and fast to prepare ourselves for the celebration of Pascha, the Resurrection of our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ. We celebrate this victory of God because it prepares us to await the Coming Again of Christ.