Understanding the Book of the Apocalypse

After the Mass for the Feast of the Assumption this year I had a request to explain the 1st Reading from the Book of the Apocalypse (The Book of Revelation) so I have written a brief explanation as follows:-


This Book is John the Divine’s severe pep talk to the Churches in Western Turkey in the 80’s and 90’s AD as you will see from the Chapters 2 to 4. Clearly there were Christians in many of these small town-states, and some of them, as we see, were losing their enthusiasm for Christianity because of hostility from the majority pagan communities. Throughout John’s letter he is dealing with this issue of Churches under threat. His ultimate belief is that Christianity will triumph. Towards the end of the book, from Chapter 12 to Chapter 19, he sets up two conflicting powers. One is the woman of Chapter 12 who represents the Christian Church in opposition to the Great Whore of Babylon and many dragons who represent the Enemy, the powers of evil. Despite the apparent power of the Dragons, John makes it clear that Christianity ultimately triumphs with his pictures of a vast earthquake – material culled most likely from accounts of the destruction of the cities around Vesuvius of AD79. He also borrows extensively from the Old Testament especially Isaiah 23 and Ezekiel 27 who have great dirges written following the destruction of Tyre by the Assyrians in the 8thC BC.

The Passage about the Woman in Chapter 12 which is used as the First reading on the Feast of the Assumption is actually not specifically about Mary and Jesus. It is therefore in my opinion not a very appropriate passage for this Feast. It depends how you see Mary, of course, for if you think of her not as the mother of baby Jesus but as representing the Church, as Mother of the Church then it makes more sense, because it is about the Church’s ( that is our) future in God despite many troubles. With John you should not try to make exact analogies because he creates a kaleidoscope of images to get over what he is trying to say which a modern factually-obsessed mind finds difficult to cope with. So just because there is a baby does not mean he is talking specifically about Jesus, because he probably is also referring to us the helpless and persecuted Christians and so on.

To talk further on this:-

Contact Father Martin Flatman , Priest at St Peter’s, Abbey Street, Eynsham OX29 4HR


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