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FROM THE PULPIT: Decoding the past can be a real Revelation; Father John Durkan, from Clonloo, Co Roscommon, examines the Book of Revelations in the New Testament and says that it carries messages of hope and encouragement.

CONTRARY to what many people may think, the Book of Revelations is not a book of doom and gloom.

It is a book which offers hope and encouragement - and I also have to say that it is not about the end of the world.

To properly understand this book it is important to examine the way the world was when it was written. It was a world where Roman emperors ruled supreme - or rather, they would have liked to.

The Emperors Domitian and Nero, for example, wanted to be worshipped as gods. If their plan had succeeded it would have united the Roman Empire - but it did not succeed as well as they hoped it would.

Many religious groups, including the Christians, could not accept this plan.

They refused to offer grains of incense in front of statues of the Emperor, and some were put to death for this.

The writer of the Book of Revelation lived through all of this.

He spoke of Jesus as the Lamb of God, and he mentions many fierce animals in the book. There are dragons, scorpions and monsters, but at the end of the book only the Lamb is left.

This is a subtle way of saying that the one who endures to the end will be saved. The victim becomes the victor.

The words victor, victorious and conquering occur many times in this book. It promises the early Christians that they shall overcome. In times like ours, this is a great comfort.

The cross is never mentioned in the Book of Revelation. But the whole book has a theology of the cross. The Lamb is presented as though slain and standing.

This apparent contradiction is resolved once it is seen that this is really a cross - the vertical part of it represents life and the horizontal beam stands for death.

The cross and the slain/standing lamb have the same message - life from and through death and victory through surrender.

The passion, death and resurrection of Jesus is called the Paschal Mystery and the Book of Revelation is all about this.

The big problem people have with the Book of Revelation is the symbolism contained in the passages. Colours, such as red and white, as well as animals and numbers are used to represent something else.

There is a huge amount of symbolism in the book and we find that animals are used by God to inflict punishment on people. It is a bit like the plagues of Egypt in the Book of Exodus.

So why should God do things like that?

That question has always been asked about this book. The best approach to an answer is that God takes us seriously no matter how casually we take ourselves.

The next point we must remember is that God acts to save us all the time. Just as a surgeon may have to cut out an appendix or bad organ, so too God cuts out evil.

The animals here show that the world of nature is in God's hands and he is Lord of that world.

The colour symbolism is also very interesting. The colour white represents victory and also rising from the dead. A white horse appears in chapter 19 and the rider is actually Jesus although his name is not given.

He is going out to war and to victory. The colour red stands for war and evil.

A red dragon appears in chapter 12 and wants to eat the child of the woman clothed with the sun as soon as he is born. This shows the evil of murder and plotting to murder.

Number symbolism is also present in there. We have heard of the number 666 - it is a code for Caesar Nero.

Each letter of the Greek alphabet had a number. Once Caesar Nero was written in Greek and all the numbers of each letter were added up, the result came to 666.

The number seven also figures much here as well. It stands for perfection - the perfection we will all have when we are with God.
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Copyright 1999 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Features
Author:Durkan, John
Publication:Sunday Mirror (London, England)
Date:Jun 27, 1999
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