The Last Two Essential Things You Need to Know about the Book of Revelation
3. Since Revelation is steeped in the thought, language and imagery of the Old Covenant, it therefore follows that the concept of “covenant” is uppermost in the mind of the author, including the ideas and imagery of the Old Covenant concerning “what happens when you are faithful to the covenant” and “what happens when you aren’t”.
Because of this, by far and away, the most sane reading of the Revelation focuses, not on some supposed jabbering about European Common Markets, nor about bar codes as marks of the Beast, nor on the sort of goofy speculation that typically dominates the minds of people like Tim LaHaye or other Late Great Planet Earthers. They, as we have already discussed, are not even in the right parking lot of the right ballfield because they haven’t even figured out that Revelation is rooted in the Mass.
Most Catholics know this. However, what many don’t know is that the dominant school of thought in most Catholic Bible textbooks is not much closer to the truth. For despite what you’ve probably read, Revelation is not written to make veiled swipes at Roman persecution. The author is not particularly interested in the relationship of the Church to the Roman Empire (an organization whose relationship to the Church is only tangentially mentioned in Revelation as the “beast” ridden by the Whore). Nope, what interests John is not Rome, but Jerusalem, which the author refers to by such Old Testament imagery as the “whore”, “Egypt”, “Sodom” and, in particular, he is interested in the Temple and the punishments inflicted on it for the failure of the covenant people to be faithful to the covenant. In short, he regards the Old Covenant’s relationship with the New, not Roman political power, as the Main Event.
Sound familiar? You’re right. The Big Apocalypse of Revelation elaborates on themes sounded in the “little apocalypse” of the Olivet Discourse given in Matthew 24 and related synoptic texts (where Jesus prophecied that not one stone of the Temple would be left standing on another). In both the little and big apocalypses, what is of interest to the writer is not the Roman Empire per se (except insofar as it impinges on the fate of Jerusalem), but the passing away of the old covenant and the establishment of the new, exemplified in the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD.
4. Which means, of course, that Revelation is interested, in its literal sense, not with prophecying about Stealth bombers, Saddam Hussein, or the European Common Market, but with the implications of the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD. Revelation, in its literal sense, was fulfilled in 70 AD. However, because the Temple is a microcosmic cosmos just as the Cosmos is a macrocosmic Temple, that “covenant judgment” and the covenant blessings given to the Body of Christ remain prophetic images today, since the judgment meted out to Jerusalem in 70 AD stands as an image of the judgment which awaits the world at the end of time, just as the triumph of the Church in 70 AD stands as an image of the salvation that awaits the Church at the End. That’s why the book was canonized. It’s still pertinent.
The synoptics, again, point to the same thing. Read Matthew 24. Is Jesus talking about the destruction of Jerusalem and the rescue of the Church or is he talking about the End of the World? The answer is “Yes”. For the former images the latter. That the moral of Revelation.
If you want to hear the (in my opinion, overwhelmingly persuasive) argument for this view of Revelation, check out the study of Revelation that Scott Hahn and I did. You can get it for free here at Scott’s excellent site, Salvation History.com.