Some in the news media and televangelists call the current conflict between Israel and Hezbollah the beginning of the end of the world or the beginning of World War III. Certain Protestant preachers have for years said that the end of the world is near and that Jesus’ Second Coming is imminent, basing their prophecies on the New Testament Book of Revelation, or the Apocalypse, and other apocalyptic writings from the Old Testament. They forget, though, what Jesus said in the Gospels: that only God the Father knew when the end of the world would be (Mark 13:32-37). They seem to presume too much.
Franciscan Father Stephen Doyle provides a Catholic commentary on the Book of Revelation, explaining why today’s people do not understand what the author of Revelation is talking about. The Book of Revelation was written for people who lived during the time of the author, traditionally accepted as St. John the Apostle, who is named in the Book - although it was common to use the name of a more widely known person to add more weight to writings.
There are several books akin to Revelation in the Old Testament - Daniel, parts of Ezekiel, Judith, and others. This apocalyptic literature is full of symbolism, using code words or names to hide the real message from persecutors. If the persecutors of the faithful came across this subversive writing, they would either not know what it meant or think it was something from the past. This provided protection for those who understood the writing’s symbolism and codes. So the Book of Revelation is not a prophecy for the twenty-first century Christian, as some preachers would say.
The Book of Revelation is not useless for today, though. It can be a great source of encouragement and solace for those enduring persecution, illness or the trials of life, though not a prophecy of some future or imminent return of Christ. It is a symbolic record of the victory of the Church over the world of evil, especially during the days of the Roman Empire. The Left Behind book series are nice fictional books (this reviewer has read most of them), but they are not a possible script of events soon to be realized in our world. If we trust in Christ and live the life that He calls us to live, why worry about the future?
Fr. Doyle uses the New Revised Standard Version of the, presenting the scripture verse(s) and his own commentary as well as other scriptural verses, writings of the Church Fathers, and other sources. He ends chapters (of which there are 53, varying in length) with reflections from scripture, Church documents or other sources. A short bibliography includes some Protestant commentaries on the Book of Revelation and is followed by an index.
Doyle tries to clear up the confusion over the interpretation of the last book of the Bible following the directives of the Second Vatican Council’s Constitution on Divine Revelation and other Church authorities. This book is highly recommended to those wanting a better understanding of the Book of Revelation without an overly academic commentary.
Fr. Stephen Doyle is the author of A Retreat with Mark (1998), Understanding the New Testament (1989), The Gospel in Word & Power (1982), The Acts of Jesus’ Apostles (1982), 1-2 Thessalonians and Galatians (1980) and Covenant Renewal in Religious Life: Biblical Reflections (1975).